COVID 19: Distance Learning, Student Safety
by Dianne Anderson
Not a lot of overthinking was involved in deciding whether SBCUSD students would return to school this semester, or ride out the distance learning model till the end of the school year.
For school board member Danny Tillman, it was a no brainer. He did the math and looked at the colors.
At the rate things were going, it looked to get more critical after Thanksgiving, after Christmas and after New Year’s Eve.
The numbers were obvious.
If cases came down in February, they would still need to wait six weeks, going into March and part of April. Even if schools opened with distance learning, only half of students would be allowed in class, and the other half distance learning online.
“Kids [would be] going to a different teacher, in some cases a different school because the numbers would have been capped. It’s not a good thing having kids in March and April have a whole new teacher and a whole new school,” Tillman said.
Since the board decided to hold off going back to class, pandemic fatalities have spiked, and is expected to get worse.
The best-case scenario is that teachers could start to be vaccinated by January or February, but his other concern is the impact on families doubling up in housing due to lost jobs and benefits. People of color are more likely to live in multi-family units.
“A lot of our households have the grandparents living with the kids,” he said. “I would be more comfortable if everyone could come back vaccinated.”
It’s not the best educational situation for the kids, but he said it’s less dangerous than getting infected in schools, spreading it to family members, and further overwhelming hospitals.
Tillman, who has a background in technology, initiated the distribution of devices well before the pandemic hit. The priority then and now are providing devices and connectivity to the community in need.
“You hear stories even today where other districts are being sued because they haven’t given devices to all of their students since this happened. We started doing that before we had this crisis,” he said.
Despite the inconveniences of this past year, many parents agree the decision not to return to school until it’s safe is the right call.
“With COVID and the way things are going to get worse, it’s better to have them at home,” said Ana, who didn’t want to use her last name. She has four boys, all young, one is a teen, and one is disabled.
The district has improved over the months, she said, both with support, and technology. However, filling the role as a part-time teacher while trying to take care of her small business and be a mom is a draining process.
Her five-year-old pulls six classes starting at 8:50 and with a 15-minute break every hour or two until 2:30 p.m., and usually hands in his homework by 7:30 each night.
“They want his homework at 3:00, they want him to read, and the spelling. I’m late all the time, I try my best. I do what I can do,” she said.
Twice a week, she picks up food from the district. Sometimes, she only goes once a week on Wednesday because they distribute a half a gallon of milk.
“If they eat all of the food, I go twice. But I want them to finish everything we go so we don’t waste it,” she said.
In Moreno Valley, Zepporah Bilbrew has adjusted to the reality of taking on the teaching role, but it’s tough. She has two sons, one with Aspergers and an eight-year-old.
As a medical technician, Bilbrew works a full-time night shift while her husband has the kids. Working within the healthcare industry around infected patients these past months has been heavy.
“They have the proper PPE, but other than that, at any given time I have to remember double glove, shut the door and isolate. That’s the only thing they are offering us in this pandemic,” she said.
She comes home at 6:00 a.m. and gets them ready for the school day. Her older son, 15, is on the spectrum, which is difficult as autistic kids typically resist a change of routine.
“ They get used to their peers, and certain things flowing the same way every time in a certain manner. It does mess them up when they’re doing something totally different,” she said. “It’s a lot.”
On the positive side, she feels that the distance learning model is up close and personal, and that some teachers may be more in tune with their students. The teacher aids can Zoom in to see if a child is not focused, or can detect if they’re hungry or sleepy.
In ways, she said it may be better than traditional classes because teachers have a clear view of each student, and it’s easier to give extra help, she said.
Another benefit she noticed is that Moreno Valley schools seem to be more attentive to kids that don’t show up for class, which is a good thing.
“If students miss a certain amount of classes, they want a note from the doctor, they can expect a knock at the door, she said. “If they were out, they want to know when, where, and why.”
For more information, see https://sbcusd.com/covid-19_updates