The state’s superintendent of public instruction called on school districts Wednesday to find ways to stay connected with students’ families, as about 97% of California’s schools plan to open the new school year with “distance learning” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tony Thurmond told reporters that school districts need to figure out methods to communicate with families who will be looking for resources and information — sometimes without the benefit of computers.
“We’re asking all of our districts to assign staff who are available to take phone calls from families who may not have access to the Internet, who may not be able to email … because we think that family engagement, in a robust way, is going to be critical to helping to offset some of the challenges that we saw in the first round of distance learning to address, you know, any kind of learning gaps and how we support those students,” Thurmond said in a Zoom chat.
The state superintendent noted that conversations are underway with school districts and superintendents and education groups to understand how they’re approaching virtual education.
“This is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. There’s no playbook for how to do this,” he said.
Thurmond noted that he spoke recently with a group of students who wanted to know when schools are going to reopen.
“We all want to know. We don’t know,” he said, urging the public to “help us reduce the rates of infection” by taking precautions including wearing face coverings, socially distancing, washing their hands with soap and using hand sanitizer.
Thurmond said the main goal is to keep everyone safe while officials continue to monitor when it will be safe for students and school employees to return to their campuses as they try to ensure that students are receiving “quality educational appearances” and have everything they need while they’re not on campus.
The state superintendent vowed to spend a lot of time over the next several weeks to focus on the needs of special education students.
“We’re going to prioritize as we enter into distance learning how do we do more to support students with disabilities? How do we do more to support students who are English learners? How do we do more to support students who on free and reduced lunch (programs)? How do we do more to support all students wherever they attend, whatever their needs are.”
Thurmond said his office is also continuing its push to help districts that need computers for students to work from home, noting that PG&E has pledged “upwards of $500,000” for efforts to support technology and computing devices in needed areas, and adding that he has reached out to 100 California companies to make contributions to help address the “digital divide.”
“I’m grateful for everyone who’s approaching this and saying safety has to be first,” the state superintendent said. “We want to make sure it’s a great experience for our students because it’s the best that we have right now.”