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SBUSD trustee urges investment for distance learning

Santa Barbara

Board members testified about a proposed “hybrid” plan to start the school year with a combination of classroom and distance learning

Santa Barbara (California, US) school member Kate Ford says it’s time “to get serious” about improving and strengthening platforms and teacher training for online learning because it is not safe to reopen schools at this point in the pandemic.

The day after an epic board meeting, in which members heard from health experts, as well as dozens of teachers and parents, testifying about a proposed “hybrid” plan to start the school year with a combination of classroom and distance learning, Ford said she believes the district should “redirect some resources” to beefing up online learning.

It just seems like we would be really exposing kids and teachers and school staff to lots of things that sound unacceptable to me, Ford said of the hybrid system, which the board had tentatively favoured last month.

“There would be a lot of lost time that we could have spent possibly figuring out the best platforms” for distance learning, she added. The idea is to get serious and find out where the best platforms are, what are they. Across the country there are thousands of home schools that do this pretty well, she said.

Ford’s comments came as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that “most of our districts” in California are likely to start the new school year with distance learning, given current Covid-19 trends, “and that decision I think is a good one.”

Over the last week, districts representing over one million of the six million public school students in the state have announced they will not open classrooms next month because of an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, at least for now.

I think that if school opened tomorrow, most of our districts would open in distance learning, Thurmond told reporters. We know that in many communities throughout our state, we’re seeing high rates of infection in the community.

On Tuesday night, more than 700 people joined the Zoom call on which the school board conducted a “study session” about various options for the start of school. About 60 people, a large of portion of them teachers urging a 100 percent distance learning program for fall, gave public comments to the board.

Next Tuesday, the board is to reconvene to consider the latest iteration of plans for their 2020-21 school year, which will be set forth by new SBUSD (Santa Barbara Unified School District) Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, who attended her first board meeting last night.

From last night forward, for the next five days, the leaders of the district, led by (Maldonado) will be scrambling to really firm up a proposal, Kate said in the interview, and I think that in every likelihood, this proposal will involve something about starting with distance learning, but with the ability to pivot to hybrid earning in a nimble and reasonable way.

A former teacher, principal and non-profit executive, Ford has the deepest experience in education of the five board members.

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