USA

L.A. school board approves deal on remote learning; critics say it falls short on teaching

With families anxious about the quality of online learning, the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that will restore structure to the academic schedule while also allowing for an online school day that is shorter than the traditional one.

The plan leaves some parents and advocates wanting more teaching hours and others who want fewer mandatory screen-time hours for their children — a reflection of the difficulties of distance learning and widespread parent angst over the start of the school year next week at home, online.

“We’re trying to work through new problems we’ve never had to solve before,” said L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who praised both his team and the teachers union for working together to preserve high-quality “teacher-led instruction.”

“It is not perfect, but in the midst of a pandemic, perfection has never been a goal,” Beutner said.

Objections to the agreement fell mainly into two categories — the length of the teacher-led school day and lack of parental input. The agreement establishes a school day running on Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., along with a teacher overall work day of six hours. Monday is a shorter day — to allow for teacher planning, a common practice before the pandemic.

Critics said the school schedule runs about two hours too short, depriving students of about 25% of the contact they would normally have with teachers.

“Instructional time, where students can connect with their teacher, is the most valuable resource the district has, but LAUSD is signing away over 7 million instructional hours. This is a bad deal for students, and every board member should vote no,” said Seth Litt, executive director of the local advocacy group Parent Revolution.

“A highly trained, professional, qualified teacher is the most valuable resource the district has,” said Hannah Gravette, of the advocacy group Innovate Public Schools. “To throw away the time available to make use of that resource is the wrong response.”

Parents were never given a chance to address “this critical issue” until this week, exactly a week before the start of school, said Maryam Qudrat, a parent at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks. “It feels like it’s too late for us to make a difference at this point.”

Qudrat was essentially correct.

In the end, board members hardly had the option of rejecting the plan — in whole or in part, which would have led to restarting intense and slow-moving negotiations. L.A. Unified, in fact, has already publicized and built its restart around this agreement.

A similar to-the-wire drama is playing out in school systems across the state — with officials uncertain until recently over when campuses would be able to reopen in some form. It recently became clear that for 97% of the state’s students, distance-only learning would continue.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced amid a surge in coronavirus cases last month that schools districts within counties on the state‘s COVID-19 watch list could not reopen for in-person classes.

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