RSF School to consider teacher expectations for distance learning

R. Roger Rowe school
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District is officially on spring break April 6-10, giving students and teachers time to take a breather after launching full-steam into a new method of online learning two weeks ago. Following the break, the district plans to add more interactive learning and has been researching best practices on how to blend real-time synchronous learning and asynchronous education as well as the use of online platforms such as Zoom to create a virtual classroom.

The board’s April 2 meeting on Zoom had over 49 people on the call. The meeting served as a public hearing on the initial proposal from the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association regarding the expectations of what will be required of the staff during the school closure. According to Superintendent Donna Tripi, the public hearing was the first step of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the district and the teachers union; negotiations were expected to continue this week.

Teachers unions statewide have been asking school districts for rules about their obligations with distance learning—last week San Diego Unified School District and its union finalized an agreement that teachers will not be required to work more than four hours a day and will not be required to provide instruction via live video—they can choose to give pre-recorded or live lessons (their distance learning model will not launch until April 27).

Rowe teacher Lori Edwards, speaking on behalf of RSFFA, said their MOU was not meant to be divisive but rather to ensure everyone is on the same page with mutually agreed-upon expectations.

“As we face this unprecedented and frightening time and as we are approaching this new method of online instruction, the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association is feeling the need to be part of the decision-making process as invested stakeholders,” Edwards said. “Our anxiety level is at an all-time high as we face expectations set forth by the district while worrying about our own privacy and rights as teachers.”

During the public hearing, teachers discussed what they have been experiencing as they work from home as well as their concerns with the district’s next phase of distance learning.

Teacher Amanda Valentine said many staff members have expressed their concerns about using the Zoom platform due to safety and privacy issues and behavioral management, questioning its effectiveness with interruptions in the teacher or students’ homes causing distractions. Valentine said many teachers don’t feel comfortable with students seeing the inside of their houses nor do they want to see the inside of their students’ bedrooms. There are also new concerns about “Zoom-bombing,” a trend in which hackers have hijacked video sessions to harass participants or share offensive content.

“Teachers do not believe that a Zoom lesson can take the place of or be more beneficial than the already in-depth online lessons being prepared and shared on Canvas,” Valentine said. “COVID-19 and the worldwide crisis has created a new frontier for traditional and public education. Unfortunately, it feels like the Wild West. We are asking you, the board, if the rewards of using Zoom outweigh the risk.”

Tripi said the district has considered alternatives to Zoom including Google Hangout, Webex and GoToMeeting, however, Zoom seems to be the platform that most districts are using for interactive instruction. The hacking of Zoom is a concern shared by the board and district staff, and Director of Technology Ben Holbert said there are steps they can take to prevent Zoom-bombing and ensure students’ and teachers’ privacy.

RSF School Board President Scott Kahn said that they have not yet rolled out interactive learning with Zoom and it will be discussed at a future board meeting. Tripi said the district will continue to explore what interactive learning will look like and where it makes sense—as she noted, it will look very different at different grade levels and disciplines.

“I support a roll-out of a very thoughtful and clear distance learning plan that’s created in a collaborative way with the input and the work from teachers and parents,” said trustee Sarah Neal.

During public comment, teachers also shared their personal challenges with online teaching and how they have found it more difficult than they anticipated as they juggle trying to take care of their own families and provide instruction to students.

Teacher Jennifer Olson grew emotional describing her day working remotely while parenting three children alone as her husband is an essential worker outside of the home. She said she is staying up late every night, skipping meals and missing time with her own children as she connects with students and parents throughout the day and then spends between two and six hours at night working on one lesson for one day, recording, uploading and making sure there are no glitches on student iPads. She said most Rowe teachers are “perfectionists” who want the best for students and are giving lots of time beyond work hours.

“I didn’t think it was possible to work any more hours than I did than when we were in school but it appears anything is possible. I recognize everyone has their own dire situation and mine is not unique but it is a situation that promises to change as you make decisions at how our distance model will evolve after spring break,” Olson said. “My plea really is that you consider your teachers’ home lives and what they might look like currently while you are making decisions about what is best for our students moving forward.”

Teacher Christi Walter also asked that the district consider the health and emotional welfare of their teachers when making decisions.

“These are harrowing times, socially and emotionally. The emotional wear is real, raw and constant for everyone,” said Walter. “As you consider teaching expectations, understand that this is a world crisis and it should not be treated and thought of as business as usual.”