One month before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, San Diego Unified School District leaders and teachers have released details of their online learning plan as campuses remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The district's distance learning plans were created over weeks of discussions among parents, students, educators, and administrators. The district said the plan is as close as possible to the pre-COVID classroom experience -- even if it's virtual.
The new online learning plan includes:
- A six-hour school day with customized learning experiences for each K-12 student
- All students will have daily, live interaction with their teachers via video conferencing
- Custom learning experiences will be based on student needs and will include daily live, online instruction (up to three hours), independent learning (at least two hours), working with other students in small groups or participating in educator office hours (at least one hour)
- All Elementary students will receive instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts
- Students will receive grades to measure their progress
"The changes to online learning were designed after hundreds of hours of conversations with parents via online Zoom calls. Students, educators, school administrators, and community stakeholders also participated in the summer-long engagement and planning process," the district said in a prepared statement.
SDUSD said the conversations resulted in an agreement signed Thursday by the school district and San Diego Education Association. Some highlights of the agreement with educators include:
- Teachers and non-classroom educators will continue to work a full, standard workday
- Educators will hold office hours, organize small-group instruction and provide students with feedback on their learning
- Educators will have added flexibility to account for the challenges of online instruction
- Educator growth and progress will be supported
SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said the district will continue to work on providing access to free computers and Wi-Fi to families in need.
Marten said the school year will begin with a sort of "parent university" boot camp as well as an orientation for students to get everybody up to speed on the virtual learning plans.
"Parents are saying, 'Can you teach us how to do it?' They want to learn Zoom, like we're learning right now, learn how to do the … tips and tricks of the trade that we've all learned during this springtime," Marten said. "Let's turn that over and actually turn it into some real teaching and learning for parents, like a parent university and student orientation. We're really excited about being able to be really thoughtful about it, and it's what our parents asked for."
All elementary school students will receive instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, PE and the arts. Marten addressed the importance of broadening the curriculum and making the students' education well-rounded, even though it will take place online.
"We know all of our leaners need that broad spectrum of learning and that the visual and performing arts is critical," Marten said. "Arts are key … for some kids it's a big connection to school."
COVID-19 cases have been surging across California, with the state surpassing New York for the number of positive cases earlier this month.
SDUSD along with Los Angeles Unified School District -- the two largest school districts in California -- said earlier this month they would not reopen campuses for in-person learning in fall due to the COVID-19 crisis.
SDUSD had hoped to be able to offer a hybrid learning plan that included both an in-person learning option for students and distance learning but the surge in COVID-19 cases in San Diego County put a halt to those plans.
“We continue working to bring all students back to campus as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so. In the meantime, we must ensure our students continue to learn and make academic progress,” said Marten.
“From a teacher’s perspective, my first reaction was how am I going to do this? How am I going to make 180 minutes a day work for four and 5-year-olds?” said kindergarten teacher Joanne Ensign. She worries that breaking up the time will mean more zoom meetings for parents at different hours.
"I’m wondering how working families are going to negotiate multiple zoom meetings a day for the different content areas for the whole group and the small group,” she said.
Parent Love Zubiller from Mission Hills said, “We have been anxiously awaiting more information because so much is up in the air right now. I’m really grateful to the teachers and principals for working so hard and coming to an arrangement so we can move forward.”
Zubiller’s seventh-grade son, Texas, said, “It’s a bit more time spend by yourselves not with a teacher but it’s something like a normal school day.” His sister, India said she is still not with her friends and teacher in person.
Additional details on SDUSD's online learning plan will be released on Aug. 10, the same day on which the district plans to provide the next public assessment of when it will be safe to physically reopen its campuses.
The school year starts on Aug. 31.
SDUSD includes 113 elementary schools, 24 middle schools, 27 high schools, 25 charter schools, 10 alternative schools, and 4 other schools in San Diego. In all, the largest school district in San Diego County serves 121,000 students.
NBC 7 is tracking how all 42 school districts in San Diego County plan to tackle the 2020-2021 school year. For now, in-person instruction is not possible, as San Diego County remains on the state's COVID-19 monitoring list.