Reform SFUSD Distance Learning

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Reform SFUSD Distance Learning

Students, teachers, and families should be able to agree that there are many issues with the current system of distance learning. I believe that it is essential for SFUSD to make some major changes if they are to continue distance learning this fall. Distance learning should be as fair as possible to students and families, regardless of socioeconomic privilege. Distance learning also needs to be an effective and reasonable teaching method for educators. These changes may be difficult, however they need to be made if distance learning continues this fall. 

Student apathy is high, and attendance is low. From my experience, attendance for distance learning is around 50-60% for P.E and Elective classes, and around 75-85% for A-G courses (Math, Science etc.) Students are not entirely to blame for the low attendance. Distance learning is not stimulating to students, and may not have much value to them. This is likely to result in lower achievement and test scores during and shortly after the period of distance learning. The current distance learning system may pose a public health risk that often goes unnoticed. Without classroom learning, many students do not have the guidance and structure they need, therefore they may partake in behaviors such as socializing outside of school, where social distancing procedures are less likely to be followed. Students have gone over 4 months without proper social interaction, and it is completely unreasonable to expect them to continue to forgo this right. In classrooms, students are in a controlled environment and social distancing procedures are easier to enforce, whereas outside of school students likely do not have anyone enforcing facemasks or other procedures. Parents also cannot be expected to micromanage their children, as it may cause conflict and is a significant use of their valuable time. 

Distance learning disproportionately affects socioeconomically disadvantaged students, which compose roughly 55% of the district. It goes beyond the simple issue of reliable technology and internet access. Many of these students live in single parent, or dual income households where parents rely on schools for childcare. Other students may even be in charge of their household and responsible for their siblings while parents work. These parents do not have the time to focus on getting their children to attend classes that are of little value to them, and these students do not have time to focus on attending said classes. LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) found that 50,000 of it’s black and latinx students were not able to regularly attend online classes. LAUSD has a very similar socioeconomically disadvantaged population to SFUSD. I personally have witnessed similar attendance issues in online classes. San Francisco is a city with huge economic inequalities. Houses that cost millions of dollars are just minutes away from neighborhoods with a median rent far below the national average of $949. These inequalities will be very prevalent in distance learning. 

Grading systems are one of the biggest issues that come with distance learning. Last spring, the district decided to use a pass/fail grading system. This system is relatively fair to students, however it can cause many issues, especially in terms of school acceptance policies. Certain high schools and most colleges rely on students’ academic achievement as a deciding factor on who they accept. A pass/fail grading system would make it very difficult to decide who these schools accept. Another issue with the pass/fail grading system is it may reduce the effort of gifted students. A letter grade system would be very unjust to students. It would be completely unreasonable to grade students with a letter grade system with the given circumstances, as the added stress and additional factors are likely to reduce student performance. Therefore, a letter grade system would not be an accurate representation of a student’s academic progress and effort. Students should not have to deal with the additional stress of maintaining grades during the current pandemic. I believe a more reasonable system would be a letter grade system, where students are not graded on their achievement, however are graded on their participation and effort. If a student makes an attempt on all of their assignments, regularly attends classes, and is actively involved in their schoolwork, they receive full credit (100% A+). If they make zero effort, do not attend classes, and are not at all involved in schoolwork, they will receive no credit (50% or 0%, F). During this pandemic, it would make far more sense to grade students on their effort, rather than just their achievement. This system would be more fair to all students, and be an accurate measure of progress.

SFUSD is setting up “learning hubs” for 6,000 disadvantaged students. These hubs will serve students in grades K-6. This is a very good idea, however it seems that the district should be able to set systems like this up for all of SFUSD’s students. If distance learning continues this fall, most of SFUSD’s facilities will go unused. It seems much more logical to provide learning hubs for all students using the school buildings. Students could borrow school chromebooks, have their seating outdoors, and either have teachers present, or other trained individuals supervising while students engage in online learning. It may even be possible to have teachers physically present for genuine teaching. This would allow students to have more structure, and provide students with the guidance and support they need. If SFUSD can set up learning hubs for all students, it would be beneficial to all parties involved. In the meantime, I do agree with prioritizing the socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Without classroom learning, students do not get the social interaction they need as humans. It has been proven that mental health issues have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as mental health hotlines have seen up to an 897% increase in calls. Household issues and conflicts are likely to have increased due to the prolonged time at home. Students need the escape of leaving their house and attending school. Some may argue that students get social interaction during online classes, however this simply is not true. From my experience, students have their cameras off and microphones muted during online classes. Students are not given time to converse with each other, and all online classes are recorded by the district. If SFUSD switches to the learning hub system, students will be able to get the social interaction they need. Without social interaction, mental health issues are likely to increase among students. This will induce even more issues, such as apathy towards schoolwork and increased drug use.

Distance learning is overall very unfair to students. As students, we have already missed out on many opportunities, such as year end events, sports seasons, birthdays, and spring/summer break. Students have been severely affected by the current pandemic as our rights are limited, we have many responsibilities, and we do not receive other benefits such as stimulus checks. It would be completely unreasonable to expect students to continue maintaining educational responsibilities without any benefits or reparations. Start times are another major issue when it comes to online learning. It has been proven that students need more sleep, and naturally wake up later than other age groups. If students are required to attend early online classes, they will have to compromise on the sleep that they need. If students are to attend online classes this fall, they should not be required to attend any class earlier than 10:30 AM. 

In conclusion, it is clear that there are many issues with SFUSD’s current distance learning system, and significant changes are needed. I believe that the proposed changes I have provided are likely to make this system more fair and effective for students, families, and teachers alike. Overall, major changes are needed if SFUSD continues distance learning for this upcoming fall semester.

If you or anyone you know has the power to help us students, please contact me at