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San Diego Unified Begins ‘Soft Launch’ Of Distance Learning

The San Diego Unified School District headquarters is shown on March 19, 2020.

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Above: The San Diego Unified School District headquarters is shown on March 19, 2020.

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Students in California's second-largest district are beginning to attend classes from home as part of an unprecedented effort brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Aired: April 7, 2020 | Transcript

The San Diego Unified School District on Monday began the “soft launch” of an unprecedented distance learning program brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

During the next three weeks, California’s second-largest district will train teachers on online learning tools and make sure its more than 100,000 students have the laptops and internet connections they need to transition into the virtual classroom. Formal instruction is scheduled to start on April 27.

Rose Scalo, a senior at San Diego High School, spent Monday morning getting familiar with her new routine.

“In math class, I have a Zoom meeting tomorrow, and we’re probably gonna talk about what we’re doing in the future in that class,” Scalo said. “Math is a very hands-on subject. Whereas I’m taking government and politics and that teacher’s just giving us the assignments he would’ve given us because those are all out of our textbooks which we have at home.”

RELATED: Vulnerable Student Groups Could Fall Behind In Distance Learning

Reported by Joe Hong

With physical school sites shut down through the end of the current school year, San Diego Unified is one of a number of districts countywide preparing for distance learning this week. Other large districts launching their programs include Poway Unified, Sweetwater Union High, Chula Vista Elementary.

Leaders of San Diego Unified’s teachers' union said the district has given teachers the flexibility to adapt to student needs in this new learning environment.

“Teachers are able to record their lessons and provide those to students to watch when it’s a convenient time,” said Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Education Association. “We know some of our older students are caring for their younger siblings. People are sharing computers or trying to share the WiFi in their homes, so everyone can’t be on their computers at the same time.”

The district and the union reached an agreement late last week on the specifics of a distance learning program. There has been talk of extending the school year, but Borden said that it is not in the district’s current plans.

RELATED: School Closures Leaving Special Ed Students In Limbo

A statement on the district’s website says staff will contact students who need laptop computers. San Diego Unified also advised students who need internet connection to sign up for the Connect2Compete program from Cox, which offers two months of free internet to low-income students.

In accordance with state guidelines, students’ grades during distance learning will not go down from what they were before schools closed in mid-March.

The teachers and the district have agreed to provide special education services to the fullest extent possible. But teachers still have concerns and unanswered questions relating to how the needs of special education students will be met.

"We really have not received guidance from the state or federal departments of education,” Borden said. "That’s something we're waiting on. Once we get some guidelines we can really move forward."

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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