Distance Learning Brings New Rules and Requirements


Emma Truchan

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, students and teachers alike are adopting new methods of learning from home, with technology playing a key role.

Inigo Lintag, News Editor

   Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and newly implemented social distancing requirements, it has become much more difficult to conduct school activities normally, and so the San Diego Unified School District, along with districts all over the country, has implemented distance learning measures.

   As schools shift towards distance learning, new practices have to be adopted. According to an email sent out by the San Diego Education Association (SDEA), “After two days of productive negotiations with the district, our SDEA Bargaining Team has reached an agreement on the impacts and effects of the implementation of distance learning for the remainder of the school year.” 

   For students, this agreement establishes measures that will help them cope with distance learning changes. According to the SDEA website, these changes include prohibiting “…the requirement of live video being used for instruction/services and [requiring] the district to develop a policy on the use of live video” and “daily prescribed schedules,” suspending “District and State summative assessments,” and ensuring “that student grades are not negatively impacted by the continued closure” (sdea.net).

   Teachers and school staff also gain some protections from this agreement. The agreement protects extended unit pay and visiting teacher pay and also “provides additional access to worksites/workspaces.” Additionally, the agreement also “addresses member evaluation and liability concerns” (sdea.net).

   According to the SDEA email, “This agreement allows the necessary flexibility needed in this time where we have to balance our work with our home and family responsibilities in ways that we’ve never had to do before. That’s why this agreement puts in strong safeguards to protect the need for flexibility for our members.”

   These distance learning changes also come with heavy modification to the grading system to ensure fairness to all students. In the same email from the SDEA, it is stated that “The law allows Districts to create the rubrics for grading (i.e. A-F, or Credit/No Credit) and it allows teachers to give the grades within those rubrics. The District’s plan, in accordance with directions from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) and the CDE, is to move to a rubric that doesn’t allow for grades going down from where they were as of March 13, 2020.”

   “Many students across the state have not been able to fully access distance learning programs. Just as we are asking for flexibility from the District, this agreement affords the same flexibility and grace to our students who are facing potential challenges to accessing their education while they are at home,” explained the SDEA.

  “In addition to the guidance from the CDE and SSPI, all educator unions in CA have thus far fought to ensure that the closures and emergency distance learning programs do not negatively impact grades. SDEA members also gave similar feedback on the recent survey,” continued the SDEA.

   Though these guidelines seem very in-depth, some questions are still left to be answered. According to the SDEA, “There are still many questions regarding Special Education and distance learning, frankly, those questions have not been answered by anyone from the US Department of Education, to the California Department of Education, all the way down to our district.” 

   “This will very much be a work in progress. However, Governor Newsom has ordered that schools across California are to stay physically closed, but will receive continued funding to provide distance learning, inclusive of special education,” the SDEA explained.

   According to the SDEA, “It’s important to remember that this agreement is NOT the District’s Distance Learning plan, which is being rolled out this week [April 3]. Rather this agreement provides the necessary guardrails for our members as we head into this temporary new normal. The District’s Distance Learning plan will follow the terms of this agreement.”

   “As educators, we should use the time between April 6 and April 24 (April 27 and May 11 for Year-Round) to engage in professional development, develop our distance learning tools, reconnect with our students, and test out some of the strategies and programs that are being offered by the district. This is a time to transition to graded distance learning and it may look different for each educator,” the SDEA continued.

   Many other institutions are also affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. According to their website, College Board, the supplier of AP Tests and Classes, has had to modify their programs to be in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Standardized tests (SATs) have been canceled and AP Test formats and guidelines have been modified. AP Tests are scheduled to happen online (remotely) between May 11 and 22 with makeup exams between June 1 and 5 (collegeboard.org).

   In terms of content and format, these exams will be open-note, consisting of one or two free response questions (FRQs). According to the College Board, all exams will be timed and most exams last 45 minutes. Responses to these exams can either be typed or hand-written. To ensure that exams are fair, all content covered on the exam will only be from content that was covered in class by early March (collegeboard.org).

   Some colleges have also implemented measures ensuring that students are not negatively impacted by distance learning measures. University of California (UC) schools (for example) have temporarily eased admissions requirements. “UC has temporarily suspended the letter grade requirement for A-G courses completed in spring 2020 for both prospective and admitted students” and even suspended standardized testing (ACT and SAT) requirements for 2021 freshman admission for those who were unable to take standardized tests because of cancellation (universityofcalifornia.edu). 

   Though distance learning has many safeguards to ensure the success of students, it does not come without its drawbacks. According to Senior Justin Le, “Distance learning allows me to manage my own time which is very nice, but motivating myself to do the work is very difficult.” 

   “The classroom is where I am used to doing most of my work and being at home is where I normally relax so it is hard to be motivated when I am used to being able to relax at home,” explained Le.