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San Diego Unified School District Gears Up For Formal Online Instruction

The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is show...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.

On Monday, more than a month after closing its schools in response to the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego Unified School District will begin formal distance learning.

At a Thursday news conference, district officials said about 90% of students have connected with educators during the three-week soft launch that began on April 6. Superintendent Cindy Marten attributes this success to efforts in teacher training and the distribution of Chromebook computers.

“This is the biggest challenge public education has ever faced in a generation,” Marten said. “And our schools and our students are rising to meet this challenge.”

During the soft launch, the district distributed 47,000 Chromebooks and 500,000 meals, Marten said. Also, teachers participated in more than 13,000 hours of professional development.

RELATED: San Diego Unifed Begins 'Soft Launch' Of Distance Learning

Teachers will not be trying to replicate the school day online, said Kisha Borden, president of the district’s teachers union. Instead, they will allow students to work on their own schedules and student’s grades will not be lowered from where they were when the physical school sites shut down in March.

“I want to remind all of us, educators, parents, principals, that this is a time to support each other as we wrestle with what it means to teach without a classroom, without the resources and tools and relationships that make up the very fabric of our schools,” Borden said.

Other districts in the county are also taking a do-no-harm approach to grading.

RELATED: Many Teachers Struggling To Contact Students As Distance Learning Programs Launch

In Poway Unified, which formally started distance learning this week, students are taking classes on a credit/no credit basis.

Elementary school students will spend between 105 and 150 minutes on learning activities each day, according to the district’s distance learning plan. High school students will spend up to an hour each day per class on lessons and assignments.

The Sweetwater Union High School District also launched distance learning this week and is following the same grade protection policy as the other districts. But it’s asking students to abide by a more regimented schedule. Class periods 1 through 6 will be held between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. daily. Periods 0, 7 and 8 will be held between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

At the Chula Vista Elementary School District, which only has about six weeks left in the school year, teachers can decide how to provide online instruction, according to district spokesman Anthony Millican. Students are not required to submit assignments for grading.

While district officials feel prepared to meet the short-term challenge of distance learning, the long-term impact of the pandemic will likely be devastating, according to Richard Barrera, vice president of the San Diego Unified School Board.

“We are going to see the biggest hit potentially to public schools we’ve ever seen in the history of this district,” Barrera said, urging teachers and families to contact their Congressional representatives to demand funding to help public schools recover in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

“We know our public schools are in desperate need of hundreds of billions of dollars from this next stimulus package,” Barrera said. “The federal government has the ability to make that investment.”

Listen to this by Joe Hong.

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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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