SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — For many parents turned pandemic home school teachers, summer can’t come soon enough. But what is the likelihood that distance learning will continue in the fall?
As school districts are beginning to hammer out the details for next year, there is a growing realization that at least some component of distance learning will likely continue.
First-grade teacher Jessica Pagan went back to clean out her classroom this week and couldn’t bring herself to leave.
“It just makes me think back to a couple of months ago when things were normal,” Pagan said.
Adding to the sense of loss she’s feeling, Jessica knows that it’s unlikely her now-empty classroom will return to normal next year.
Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, says the governor’s 10% budget cut last week, combined with proposed health requirements for schools, means it is unlikely that many districts will be able to afford to return to full-time in-person classes in the fall.
“You’re not going to see what schools used to be in anytime in the near future,” Freitas said. “It’s either the furloughs or layoffs, larger class sizes, those are all the things we’re looking at.”
Six of the state’s largest districts sent a joint letter to lawmakers saying that they could not reopen safely under the proposed cuts. The letter cited the need for increased staffing, cleaning, and PPE among other pandemic-related costs.
Freitas says the CFT has been working closely with districts and the state Department of Education.
COVID-19 guidelines restrict childcare to groups of 10, but state data shows the average grade school class size ranges from 22 to 27. To maintain physical distancing, districts will likely have to split up classes.
Many local districts began sending out questionnaires this week, asking parents, among other things, if they would prefer half-day classes or class two days a week.
“Everyone would be back at home, what kind of relief does that provide to the parents?” Freitas asked.
The new normal could have a ripple effect on employers who need parents to work full-time. Pagan expressed concern for her students and their families.
“So much of what we do in a school day requires face-to-face interaction,” she said. “I’m just a bit worried, for not only myself, but for families who are going to have to really balance work and school work.”
Larissa Stuart is a mom of four boys and a third-grade teacher, so she intimately understands the struggles from both perspectives.
“If I have a Zoom meeting, I have to have the boys get off (the computer) and they have to stop whatever distance learning they’re doing,” Stuart said.
She notes that face-to-face hands-on instruction is crucial for kids, and even as an elementary school teacher, she struggles to help her sons with their middle and high school assignments.
But while distance learning presents serious challenges for both parents and teachers, so does classroom learning during a pandemic.
“Children just naturally, they gravitate towards each other. They don’t know how to socially distance themselves,” Stuart said.
Keeping kids healthy during a normal cold and flu season is difficult enough without the added threat of COVID-19.
On Tuesday, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond reiterated in a press conference that both teachers and students would likely have to wear masks next year.
Both Stuart and Pegan agree, that as hard as it is to get kids to focus on work at home, it may be even harder for kids to focus in a classroom while they are wearing masks.
“They’re gonna be pulling it up and down. It’s gonna be an eye mask, it’s gonna be a hat,” Pagan pointed out.
The CDC recently released guidance for schools and camps on reopening. Recommendations include masks, smaller classes and other possible restrictions ranging from limiting parent volunteers on campus to closing cafeterias and serving lunch in classrooms.
An abbreviated list of the CDC recommendations has been circulating on social media. The list is not entirely accurate and fails to provide context and exceptions for many of the proposed recommendations.
It is important to note that the guidance is not a mandate. Nothing is certain yet. Districts say that a lot will depend on the potential for additional funding from the state or feds.
There is also the potential of an increase in cases ahead of the school year as counties continue to open back up this summer. That could also impact reopening dates and plans which will vary district to district.
However, no matter what happens in September, there will be contingencies for a winter COVID-19 outbreak, which we’re told, may include district-wide shutdowns if there are cases at even one school.
The state Superintendent will be meeting with representatives from all 1,000 school districts on Thursday to discuss best practices and reopening plans.