SCUSD Distance Learning: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. The District has announced its intention to unilaterally implement a Distance Learning plan beginning on Monday, April 13. What is it?
A. It is actually very unclear. The District proposed this definition of Distance Learning: “‘Distance learning’ means instruction in which the student and instructor are in different locations. This may include interacting through the use of computer and communications technology, as well as delivering instruction and check-in time with their teacher. Distance learning may include video or audio instruction in which the primary mode of communication between the student and instructor is on-line interaction, instructional television, video, telecourses, or other instruction that relies on computer or communications technology. It may also include the use of print materials incorporating assignments that are the subject of written or oral feedback.” The District has not explained how it plans to move forward with this since its proposed “primary mode of communication between the student and the instructor is on-line interaction” and so on, when the District remains incapable of following through on its guarantee that it would provide a Chromebook to every student who needs one prior to April 13.
Q. Why has the District been unable to follow through on its guarantee to provide Chromebooks with internet access to all students?
A. That too is not known. On March 30, we made a proposal to use $1.8 million in health plan savings to immediately buy Chromebooks for students. Surprisingly, the District later informed us that 20,000 Chromebooks had already been purchased, but will not produce the purchase order. On Friday, April 3, the District again reassured us that every student who needs a Chromebook would have one by April 13. On Wednesday, the District restricted distribution to only one Chromebook per family, and is now distributing Chromebooks only to elementary schools (on April 3, the District previously distributed Chromebooks to a few secondary schools). Nearly three-quarters (73%) of secondary students, 13,552 students in all, will not be offered a Chromebook prior to April 13. The District now states that it “ultimately expect[s] to provide each of student from all grade levels a computer within the next few weeks.” Distance Learning is only scheduled to occur from April 13 through June 11.
Q. Am I going to be evaluated based on my teaching during the Distance Learning period?
A. According to the District’s last proposal, “Unit members shall not be evaluated on those lessons and/or instruction during the pandemic period of distance learning.” But like so many aspects of the District’s plan, there are many details left unexplained. Q. When school is in session, I have discretion to teach board-adopted curriculum based on student needs and resources available. Isn’t that still the case in a Distance Learning environment? A. We believe so, but again the District has left many details unexplained. According to SCUSD’s proposal, “The pace of instruction shall be based on students’ acquisition of essential standards mastery.” It does not provide any insight in addressing the social and emotional needs of students and the impact of Coronavirus on students and their families. Nevertheless, it implies that teacher discretion based on the needs of students and available resources will determine a student’s ability to acquire “essential standards of mastery.” But we are unable to interpret the District’s intent.
Q. Do I have to use Zoom or other live video and audio lessons?
A. California Education Code Section 51512 provides protections to teachers regarding their privacy and requires teacher and principal consent for the use of any “listening or recording device.” There have been numerous concerns about participant confidentiality, especially related to Zoom. Unfortunately, and at the risk of being repetitious, the District has been unwilling or unable to provide any explanation or details of its intent and has not responded to our concerns about confidentiality. Accordingly, it’s difficult to provide a definitive response on this or almost any other issue related to the SCUSD plan for Distance Learning.
Q. What about grading?
A. One item on which we reached an agreement with the District has to do with grading. The District incorporated our proposal into their response to us which states the following:
Posting of Grades Already Earned as of March 13, 2020: By April 20, 2020, teachers will ensure that the grades for the students in their classroom are updated and current as of March 13, 2020, the last school day before schools were closed.
a. For elementary teachers, posted grades will reflect the grade earned by students at the end of the trimester, March 13, 2020. Students may continue to make up work assigned prior to March 13, 2020.
b. For secondary teachers, posted grades will reflect the grades earned by students through March 13, 2020. Students may continue to make up work assigned prior to March 13, 2020.
Because the quarter was not scheduled to end until April 3, students shall be “held harmless” for work that was previously assigned for completion after March 13, but due between March 16 and April 3, 2020. Students will be also be “held harmless” and will not receive a lesser grade than their current grade (as of March 13, 2020) as a result of engaging in distance learning during this unprecedented time. Consistent with Education Code section 49067 and Board Administrative Regulation 5121, teachers will provide opportunities for students to earn a higher grade as a result of engaging in distance learning and may be assigned options for credit recovery. As we explained to the District, the “hold harmless” provision means that assessments are not summative and that grading is suspended. We believe that remains the District’s intention on this item at this moment but that is unclear. Finally, we understand that the District will need to open up the portal to allow grades to be posted, which is obviously out of our control.
Q. Didn’t the District agree in MOU#1 (March 20, 2020) and MOU # 2 (March 30, 2020) that it would “work together” with SCTA “in order to inform a mutually-developed long-distance learning capacity that may be implemented going forward”?
A. Yes. That is, a “mutually-developed long-distance learning capacity,” not a unilaterally implemented one. Ironically the proposal the District claims unilaterally to be implementing repeats that commitment to “a mutually-developed long-distance learning capacity.” This is, unfortunately, precisely the kind of doublespeak that we’ve come to expect from the District.
Q. Is the District backtracking on yet another agreement?
A. Yes. Actually, it’s two memoranda of understanding, both of which where signed less than one (1) month ago. You can view those agreements here for MOU#1 (March 20, 2020) and here for MOU #2 (March 30, 2020) Both are personally signed by Superintendent Aguilar.
Q. Is the District’s action a violation of California labor law?
A. We certainly think so and are working with the CTA Legal Department to take appropriate legal action. The District has time and time again shown its disregard for its educators, their Union, and its own legal obligations. The California Public Employment Relations Board has issued six unfair practice charges against SCUSD in the last eighteen months, so this is only the latest unlawful action. And that’s not all. State Auditor Elaine Howle stated unequivocally that the SCUSD school board had “failed to uphold it fiduciary duty” and acted in “violation of state law” regarding District budgeting.
Q. Does the Coronavirus emergency excuse the District’s actions?
A. No. Public employers’ legal obligation to bargain with their employees’ unions remains unchanged in this emergency. This was underscored just last week in Governor Newsom’s “Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration: Serving Local Communities During the COVID-19 Emergency” (which you can view here) which states unambiguously: “Emergency declarations have not suspended obligations to bargain with exclusive representatives,” and that “recognizing the need may arise to take significant and time-sensitive actions, parties are still expected to fulfill this obligation as soon as is practicable.”
Q. Why does the District refuse to abide by the Governor’s Framework?
A. We are unaware of any other school district in California—with the notable exception of SCUSD– that has stated that it is unwilling to abide by the Governor’s Framework agreement. Even the umbrella organization of school districts in the state, the California School Board Association (CSBA), has endorsed the Governor’s Framework. SCUSD Board of Education member Darrel Woo is on the governing board of the CSBA. We have no explanation for the District’s refusal.
Q. Are we required to follow the District’s new Distance Learning “plan”?
A. We know that teachers want to teach. And any employee is required to follow a reasonable directive from an Employer, so long as that directive is not an imminent threat to their well-being. SCTA believes that the District’s rollout of the Phase III distance learning program is unlawful, and we will be filing legal challenges shortly. Additionally, because of the ambiguity of the “plan”, “following it” is less than clear than it might otherwise have been. To be safe, we further recommend that if you have a concern about something you are being directed to do that you ask for it to be put in writing, thereby avoiding any ambiguity. Since schools closed on March 16, we have encouraged you to provide continued education to students. Beginning on April 13, as they should anytime, educators should comply with direct orders from your supervisor, both to ensure continuity of education for the District students, and also to avoid possible discipline for alleged insubordination. This is in keeping with the longstanding labor relations principle of “obey now, challenge later.” Feel free to inform your administrator that you are complying with the Phase III program “under protest” – we will be saying the same thing to the District, too, as we move forward with our legal challenge.
Q. Why did the District threaten to take legal action against employees for volunteering to offer technical support to students and parents?
A. We have absolutely no idea, particularly in light of this handout that is being distributed to parents who are picking up computers for their students. It appears the Superintendent may be in violation of his own “cease and desist” directive. In the meantime, we would recommend that any parent or student who needs technical support contact Superintendent Aguilar directly. His email is JAguilar@scusd.edu.