San Diego Unified School District is aiming to make distance learning this fall “as close as possible” to what school was like pre-COVID, according to new distance learning ground rules the district announced late Thursday night.
That means students will have a six-hour school day that includes daily video conferencing with a teacher.
Every school day, students will have up to three hours of live online instruction, at least two hours of independent work and at least one hour of students working in small groups or going to virtual office hours.
All elementary school students will get instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, physical education and the arts. Direct special education services will be provided live to students.
Teachers will be required to work full workdays, hold office hours and arrange small-group instruction.
Those were some of the details finalized in a tentative agreement that was announced between San Diego Unified and its teachers union Thursday night. The district said it worked with parents, school administrators, students and teachers to design the new distance learning rules.
The agreement represents a significant change from distance learning in the spring, which had more lax requirements and was considered more of a last-minute, emergency measure. Back then, the district did not require teachers to work more than four hours a day or use Zoom and it did not set daily minimums of distance learning for students.
“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,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement.
The school day will involve up to six hours of distance learning to mimic a normal, in-person school day as much as possible, said Andrew Sharp, district spokesman.
But for some parents whose children struggled to learn online or disliked online learning in the spring, the idea of up to four hours daily of online instruction is intimidating.
Mo Martin, an Alcott Elementary parent with two second-graders, including a daughter with Down Syndrome, said it was “a little scary” reading about the hour minimums for distance learning.
“Three hours of instruction would be difficult for any young child when 30 minutes was difficult even for our typical kid on Zoom,” she said.
Other districts plan to require fewer hours of learning than San Diego.
Sweetwater Union High School District, which is starting school on Monday, revealed in its reopening plan that students will have between 1.5 and 2.25 hours of live online instruction every day, and between 2.25 and three hours of independent work.
San Diego Unified School Board President John Lee Evans said the district included these minimums of instruction time because many parents told the district they wanted more instruction than in the spring.
“We heard from parents pretty commonly that not enough was provided in the spring… it was very, very inconsistent,” Evans said. “So we wanted to provide a better structure and we wanted to cover the full curriculum.”
He said the schedule doesn’t mean students will have screen time for six hours a day. Teachers will be required to provide three hours of live instruction every day, but not all of that live instruction has to be for all students; some of that can be small-group instruction.
Evans also noted the district will conduct teacher evaluations this school year, unlike in the spring, which he says will hold teachers accountable for the distance learning they provide.
“That’s really going to increase the quality of the learning,” Evans said.
Martin said she also wants to see more information about how the school district will provide special education services.
Her daughter is supposed to receive occupational therapy, physical therapy, adaptive physical education and speech therapy, as well as the services of an aide through her school. She said her daughter only had live interaction for adaptive physical education about three times in the spring, and for a couple weeks her daughter received some one-on-one help from her aide and resource teacher.
Unlike in the spring, schools will have to provide direct IEP services live, according to students’ IEP hours and needs, according to the tentative agreement. An IEP is a student’s special education plan.
“Special education is something that we’re all very worried about,” Marten said in an interview.
Marten, the district superintendent, added that more details about delivering special education services will be announced on Aug. 10.
San Diego Unified’s rules for distance learning this fall are stricter than they were in the spring partly because the state has several new distance learning requirements for this school year that are outlined in the state budget.
Among them: Schools have to take attendance daily, students must have daily live interaction with an educator and schools must write a plan on how to reach students who don’t show up for distance learning for at least 60 percent of the school week. Schools must also ensure that every student has internet access and a device to complete school work.
San Diego Unified will start school on Aug. 31 with at least one week of distance learning. It will announce on Aug. 10 more details on when the district considers it safe to reopen.
The district cannot bring students back in-person until San Diego County lowers its COVID case rate to 100 per 100,000 people or below for at least two consecutive weeks. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced two weeks ago that public and private schools cannot reopen until their counties stay off the state’s COVID watch list for at least two weeks.