Mendocino County Office of Education: A Perspective on Education
With the start of school, many parents are dealing with yet another pandemic-related stress—how to keep kids safe, healthy, and productive via remote learning. As parents try to balance personal and professional responsibilities, it’s easy to understand how tempers can flare and frustrations can make us do and say things we usually wouldn’t.
As someone who leads a large governmental organization, this feels like an important time to remind everyone that bureaucracies are made up of human beings who, like you, are also under a lot of stress and doing their absolute best under difficult circumstances. Many of them are simply doing what is required by law.
I always recommend being polite and understanding, but in these difficult times, I think it is particularly important for people to consider who made the decision causing them angst and who has the power to change things. Typically, it isn’t the school secretary or the office receptionist on the receiving end of the tirade.
In normal times, school districts have a lot of independence to make decisions. As long as they comply with state education code, they and their school boards can define local educational priorities via strategic planning, budgeting, and policy. In accordance with labor unions, they can determine work schedules and conditions. Districts also coordinate transportation and food service, student intervention programs, and capital projects, and they determine when and how to open or close schools.
In a health crisis, things change. School district decisions must consider new State- and county-level statutes to address people’s health and safety. During this pandemic, school districts have been asked to comply with numerous new requirements that can be complex, difficult to implement, and sometimes underfunded.
For example, as schools shift their platforms from in-class to online to provide a safe yet robust learning experience, the State has enacted requirements that sometimes work better in bigger metropolitan areas. For example, in parts of our rural county, we cannot depend on high-speed access to the internet.
Regardless of where schools are in California, teachers must take daily attendance via a verbal check-in, and ideally provide live, sustained instruction that includes interaction with peers. This is done through a predetermined class schedule where the curriculum is developed and presented by the teacher. So, if your student has internet connectivity problems, please work with your school to see what services and supports can be offered. If students cannot adhere to the schedules determined by their schools, there may be other options.
Some schools offer independent study. In this model, the certificated teacher, parents, and student collaborate on the lesson plans and then the parents are responsible for helping students complete the self-paced lessons in whatever location and schedule is agreed upon with the teacher. During COVID-19 restrictions, the school must take daily attendance via a verbal check-in, even for independent study students, but apart from that, things are more flexible. Independent study may not be available in every district, so check with yours if this sounds like a good model for you.
Private schools can offer educational options with some flexibility not afforded to public schools because they are not bound by the same statutes. For schools serving K-12, both public and private school curriculum must prepare students for college and career entrance requirements, but private schools do not have to use state-approved curriculum or follow state-approved scope and sequence of courses. Although educational standards may differ, private schools are following all public health statutes.
If you want to determine your student’s curriculum without input from a certificated teacher, you might consider homeschooling. This requires you to determine everything about your child’s educational journey–the lessons, the instructional materials, the subject matter. It’s all up to you. Many people who toyed with the idea of homeschooling before the pandemic have since decided against it. Serving as a curriculum designer, teacher, and parent all at once is time-consuming and can be challenging, but it can be done. Another thing to consider is that homeschooling may not allow your student to reintegrate into public school easily, should they choose to do so, because of a lack of alignment with public school curriculum. Whereas, independent study aligns with public school curriculum and still provides flexibility that some distance learning options do not.
If you choose this route, it is important to submit an affidavit with the state certifying your homeschool. This will allow your student to attend college someday, should they choose to.
Whichever option you choose, please remember that we’re all in this together. Those of us in education want to provide your students with the best possible experience. Please reach out to teachers by asking questions rather than assuming the worst. As educators, we are used to managing challenging situations, but the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched many of us further than we could have imagined.
By Michelle Hutchins
Superintendent of Schools