Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Lila Nelson watches as her son, Rise University Preparatory 6th-grader Jayden Amacker, watch an online class in his room at their home in San Francisco in April 2020.
Update: This story was updated on Thursday, June 25 with more details on a floor alert for AB-77.

California schools will need to offer daily live interaction and regular communication with parents, among other requirements, in order to receive state funding for the upcoming school year.

In March, schools across California closed their campuses to prevent the spread of Covid-19, causing districts to rush to put together distance learning plans, ranging from online group projects to virtual lectures to paper-pencil packets. With little warning, many teachers struggled to reach all of their students, raising concerns about how low-income students, English learners and other students with high needs are falling behind their peers with more resources at home to continue learning.

“Parents are so overwhelmed, many have said they don’t know how to do the work their kids are doing,” said Mary Lee, a parent advocate in south Los Angeles. “At some point, kids drop off. We have to have an overall consistent framework that requires administrators and teachers to put more emphasis on reaching out and supporting families.”

This fall, schools are being told to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible” according to AB-77, the education trailer bill accompanying the 2020-21 budget that legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to this week. Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19, which has killed more than 5,630 people in California as of June 23, according to the California Department of Public Health.

But some education groups say the latest provisions are restrictive and safely reopening schools will be nearly impossible to implement without extra financial support. A group of civil rights and education advocates on Thursday released a floor alert calling on lawmakers to strengthen the provisions even further before voting on the bill this Friday.

Specifically, the group is asking for a baseline requirement of at least 3 hours a day of live face-to-face instruction in-person or online, along with a mechanism to identify and “correct egregious LEA underperformance in distance learning,” the letter reads. They also are calling for clear avenues for parents and students to seek help if they are receiving a subpar education, and for lawmakers to close a loophole in the trailer bill that could allow districts to divert funding targeted towards low-income students, English learners and Black and Latino students.

On June 8, California released updated guidelines for reopening schools that recommend limiting the number of students physically on campus at the same time and considering strategies such as hybrid learning models where students participate in a mix of in-person and online classes. So far, it appears many districts in California are headed towards a hybrid model.

The latest distance learning rules in AB-77 also require teachers to confirm that students have the necessary technology at home to participate in distance learning. Access to computers and the internet has been a major impediment to connecting students with teachers during school closures.

California still needs more than 700,000 laptops and more than 300,000 hotspots to meet students’ needs moving forward, according to recent estimates from the California Department of Education.

Teachers participating in distance learning will also be expected to interact with students live daily to teach, monitor progress and maintain personal connections. Interaction can be over the internet or telephone, or through other means approved by health officials.

The bill also instructs teachers to communicate with parents about student learning progress.

One distance learning success story that researchers and education leaders have pointed to is Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida. The district was able to kick-start distance learning immediately after schools closed in March after distributing more than 100,000 laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled phones to students. It also had a plan for tracking attendance and established clear class time expectations at the start, including daily 45-60 minute lessons and live office hours with teachers.

After reaching out to families of students who didn’t initially log in, the district of more than 300,000 students reported a 99% participation rate.

In California, advocates for more guidance stress that students benefited from more face-to-face instruction during distance learning, especially among English learners. However, 40% of teachers said they offered only 0-1 hour of live instruction each week this spring, according to a survey of more than 650 California teachers and administrators by Californians Together, a research and advocacy group focused on English learners.

“My ability as a mother is different from a teacher, so it was difficult to become her teacher so suddenly,” said Gipsy Alvarado, an east Los Angeles parent with a daughter in kindergarten. “You have to make sure you are next to them. In school, they are next to their peers and teachers. Academically it’s been a total loss. She was used to extracurricular activities, and now we don’t have that routine.”

Education advocacy groups that pushed for more specific guidance found some relief in the guidelines, saying they provide necessary standards to ensure that more students progress in their learning.

“Our huge concern here is that too many kids have been getting very little instruction. That tends to fall disproportionately on kids of color, English learners and kids in poverty,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization focused on children’s health and education in California. “In some cases, kids aren’t getting anything.”

Children Now is part of a group of education and civil rights organizations that earlier this month wrote a letter calling on lawmakers to maintain requirements for instructional days, attendance and set higher standards for reaching children during distance learning.

But education groups differ on what seems feasible for schools, many of which are facing drastic budget cuts and other financial concerns resulting from the pandemic.

“The push toward on-campus instruction, while understandable, doesn’t make sense in a health context when legislators have to know that many districts do not have the funding, the facility space, or the capacity to safely offer on-campus instruction en masse at this time,” said Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association. “It appears to undermine the priority the governor has placed on health and safety.”

The California School Boards Association was a part of a group that also wrote a letter to state legislators after the May budget proposal asking for more flexibility with instructional time requirements, as well as additional funding in order to reopen schools safely.

“It might be different if we saw additional funding above the norm to recognize what is required to address this crisis, but that does not appear to be forthcoming,” Flint said. “Essentially this trailer bill sets schools up for failure.”

California teachers and school officials preparing plans for distance learning in the fall got a reprieve this week in the latest state budget, which will avoid previous plans to cut K-12 funding by nearly $7 billion.

To address learning loss during school closures and ease re-opening costs, Newsom also agreed to add $1 billion in one-time funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and to distribute the money to districts. The total CARES Act funding for K-12 will rise from $6 billion to $7 billion.

But safety protocols (such as sanitizing surfaces) and purchasing technology equipment for students will be expensive for many resource-strapped districts.

Even with the additional CARES Act funding, Flint said, “that would mitigate the crisis but it would not solve the problem at all.”

California schools will continue to be required to provide 180 days of instruction per year (175 days for charter schools). However, the minimum number of instructional minutes will be reduced, in an effort to offer teachers more flexibility during distance learning.

The typical minimum number of instructional minutes per day varies by grade: 200 for kindergarten, 280 for grades 1 to 3; 300 for grades 4 to 8 and 360 for high school. For the 2020-21 school year, the daily requirements will drop to 180 minutes for kindergarten, 230 for grades 1 to 3 and 240 for grades 4 to 12.

California bases funding to schools on average daily attendance, but districts won’t lose money if some students don’t participate in distance learning. However, schools will still be required to track and report student participation.

“Providing flexibility to school districts on average daily attendance and instructional minute requirements will help address equity needs and accommodate distance learning as needed to serve all students,” said California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd. “Still, a lot of work remains to safely reopen schools and colleges. Whether it is enhancing ventilation systems, accommodating for social distancing, providing face coverings and cleaning supplies, or having the necessary staff for health screenings and emotional support, schools are going to need additional resources.”

Additional requirements for distance learning outlined in the trailer bill include setting procedures for re-engaging students who are absent for more than 60% of instruction per week and providing academic supports for English learners and students who have fallen behind in their academic progress. Progress can be assessed through a variety of ways including evidence of online activities, assignment completion and contact between school staff and students or their parents.

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  1. Margaret 1 month ago1 month ago

    My child does not need face time with the teacher. We are a household of 2 working parents. It does not work for us to have required Zoom meetings 3 times (or be considered absent) a day during business hours for a first grader. This bill is not allowing flexibility for working parents. What's good for the goose is not good for the gander in this situation. We are individual families with individual needs. … Read More

    My child does not need face time with the teacher. We are a household of 2 working parents. It does not work for us to have required Zoom meetings 3 times (or be considered absent) a day during business hours for a first grader.

    This bill is not allowing flexibility for working parents. What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander in this situation. We are individual families with individual needs. I think having the option of face to face time and instruction available for those who need it is great and should be there; but, it should not be a requirement for every student if they are meeting the curriculum deadlines and testing well.

  2. Nancy Walker 2 months ago2 months ago

    Define daily live interaction, because our school seems to think working on a google doc together is live interaction.

  3. Athena Bond, Education and Disability Mother and Advocate 2 months ago2 months ago

    The disabled children on IEPs suffered terribly during distance learning without direct support. How is it that IHSS care providers and respite providers are considered “essential workers” during the pandemic and 1:1 paraeducator aides are not??!!!

  4. Kip 3 months ago3 months ago

    Donee, we at Irisvision are also concerned with the isolation and significant issues the low vision communities face, especially now. We are trying to work with federal, state and local governments and school districts to help with remote enabled vision technologies. No easy task. Please let us know how we may help!

  5. Common Sense 3 months ago3 months ago

    I appreciate Richie C.'s comment regarding asking successful online schools for helpful insight regarding their platforms - seems like common sense. Something that has bewildered me throughout this situation is the push to go back to school. Health advisers are clear that large gatherings are counterproductive to managing this pandemic. Why would they put the children at risk? I understand the social-emotional aspect, as well as learning loss, but all of those things can be worked … Read More

    I appreciate Richie C.’s comment regarding asking successful online schools for helpful insight regarding their platforms – seems like common sense.

    Something that has bewildered me throughout this situation is the push to go back to school. Health advisers are clear that large gatherings are counterproductive to managing this pandemic. Why would they put the children at risk? I understand the social-emotional aspect, as well as learning loss, but all of those things can be worked with. Death cannot – it’s permanent.

    For those of you who have not studied cellular biology or physiology I will bottom line a few critical points:
    1 – Hybrid models in any form will not keep students and staff safe because of the incubation period, which is up to 14 days. That means that students will be attending school while sick and contagious for a number of days before they even know they are sick – thus infecting others.
    2 – 25% of people who have been infected never develop symptoms. This means that they will attend school indefinitely while contagious – thus infecting others.
    3 – The COVID19 virus remains active on many surfaces for an astonishingly long time. That means that unless every surface is cleaned non-stop throughout the day people will be exposed. Keep in mind: surfaces are often porous and the virus is so small it can easily hide.
    4 – The virus keeps mutating. This means that antibodies are not conferring immunity in any meaningful way.
    5 – Eventually a treatment and/or vaccine will be found. In fact, there are more than a few undergoing human trials right now. Experts believe a treatment will be available by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. That means students and staff can return to school safely and reasonably expect to live through it.

    So, again, it bewilders me that everyone is pushing for a return to school given the aforementioned COVID19 variables and the fact that a treatment is likely around the corner (the entire world is working on it at a faster pace, and with more money, than when they were trying to send a man to the moon).

    I also understand the economic need for children to return to school. But consider this: not even animals put their young out for bait. Where is the common sense? There are other solutions that won’t result in sickness and/or death.

  6. Richie C 3 months ago3 months ago

    Why don’t the politicians seek advice from well functioning online school educators? As an online school teacher (fully certified in CA), the state clearly made these requirements without understanding online learning at all. It is primarily asynchronous with some synchronous learning, and to try to make a synchronous model, or to follow teaching practices that are for traditional brick and mortar schools, is a map for failure.

    Replies

    • rosa 2 months ago2 months ago

      Hello,

      I am thinking of pulling my child from the local school so that if he has to take/do online learning at least he has a fighting chance with an online school that has a proven track record. Would you be able to recommend any?

    • Suhas C 2 months ago2 months ago

      Please tell us which school program you are referring to (“to which you are referring” if you prefer).

  7. Kevin 3 months ago3 months ago

    I understand that frequent, real-time interaction with a teacher is beneficial for most students, but why do education laws always require a specific quantity of “learning” time instead of measuring what is learned? California leads the world in innovation in many industries but is hamstrung by antiquated notions of Carnegie units that measure inputs and not outcomes. Given the unique challenges this pandemic has created for traditional in-classroom instruction, students who have the desire … Read More

    I understand that frequent, real-time interaction with a teacher is beneficial for most students, but why do education laws always require a specific quantity of “learning” time instead of measuring what is learned? California leads the world in innovation in many industries but is hamstrung by antiquated notions of Carnegie units that measure inputs and not outcomes.

    Given the unique challenges this pandemic has created for traditional in-classroom instruction, students who have the desire and ability to work independently should be allowed to do so, freeing up limited teacher time and resources for those who require more direct interaction with teachers. I support home education charters and school choice, but I would like to see the state legislature and local school districts explore and embrace alternative methods to deliver instruction and measure learning.

  8. Donee 3 months ago3 months ago

    Low vision and blind students have a huge disadvantage In distance education. Teaching Braille, specialized technology use, and concept development to visually impaired students virtually is almost impossible. They need to experience, use real items and explore in order to understand concepts. They must receive one on one services from a credentialed Teacher Of The Visually Impaired. Lawmakers must include low vision and blind students in legislation to ensure they also receive funding and … Read More

    Low vision and blind students have a huge disadvantage In distance education. Teaching Braille, specialized technology use, and concept development to visually impaired students virtually is almost impossible. They need to experience, use real items and explore in order to understand concepts. They must receive one on one services from a credentialed Teacher Of The Visually Impaired.

    Lawmakers must include low vision and blind students in legislation to ensure they also receive funding and proper services from the trained teacher of the visually impaired and are included to close a loophole in the trailer bill that could allow districts to divert funding targeted towards low-income students, English learners and Black and Latino students. And students with visual impairments.

    Replies

    • Vivien Moreno 3 months ago3 months ago

      As the parent of a vision impaired student, I would like to refer you to the many ways technology has supported learning for children with these challenges. I hope that all districts have access to the support through their SELPAs. The reader programs are not perfect, but allow texts that are not Braille or large font to lighten the stress of reading. There is book share and with so many textbooks on line now, there … Read More

      As the parent of a vision impaired student, I would like to refer you to the many ways technology has supported learning for children with these challenges. I hope that all districts have access to the support through their SELPAs. The reader programs are not perfect, but allow texts that are not Braille or large font to lighten the stress of reading. There is book share and with so many textbooks on line now, there should be a significant amount of the necessary texts available to vision challenged students.

      Of course the SELPA vision specialist probably has numerous options for students to cope with this emergency situation. The teachers should be recording lectures; however I would probably be contacting my case worker asap to get that in the IEP in case of any union conflicts. These were available services we had throughout his k-12 experience so should still be available.

    • Samantha Gibson 3 months ago3 months ago

      This is exactly how my 6th grade daughter was left completely behind. She was even denied access to audible books. At the end it was the most insulting and heartbreaking period of her life. The school she felt she belonged to left her completely in the dust and took absolutely no ownership for their lack of integrity. I know it is a difficult time but it was over and above not having the time or … Read More

      This is exactly how my 6th grade daughter was left completely behind. She was even denied access to audible books. At the end it was the most insulting and heartbreaking period of her life. The school she felt she belonged to left her completely in the dust and took absolutely no ownership for their lack of integrity. I know it is a difficult time but it was over and above not having the time or money to help. It was in some cases teachers and administration purposely excluding her from accessing any sort of education or normalcy.

      Now it seems the plan is more of the same for the fall with no mention of vision, auditory, dyslexic or health conditions being addressed. We have three kids and she was the only one schooling at our local brick and mortar. Now we pay taxes and have three kids who can’t be educated by the state of California.

  9. Amy Machado 3 months ago3 months ago

    Am I understanding correctly that if a school is only offering 2 1/2 hrs of instruction 4 days a week for a 1-3 grader that they will be out of compliance? 2 1/2 hrs a day for 4 days is not 230 minutes a day.

  10. Jen 3 months ago3 months ago

    This article doesn’t seem to explain the whole story. How does the bill impact home education charters? Will they continue to receive funding?

    Replies

    • Samantha Gibson 3 months ago3 months ago

      Only if the student was enrolled in the charter as of February 2020. Lots of families got accepted in charters that have been implementing distance home learning very well for years and now they will not be able to take their Ed funds with them. The money will not follow the student and will stay at the very institution that failed them. Most likely the charter that they were set to start this August will … Read More

      Only if the student was enrolled in the charter as of February 2020. Lots of families got accepted in charters that have been implementing distance home learning very well for years and now they will not be able to take their Ed funds with them. The money will not follow the student and will stay at the very institution that failed them. Most likely the charter that they were set to start this August will not be able to accommodate them since their funds will be held hostage at the local district.

      I may be off but that is my understanding. The bill passed last week and I’m sure it is posted online somewhere.

  11. G 3 months ago3 months ago

    My son’s school was meeting all the needs for learning and never missed a beat… pandemic or not and parent teacher communication was outstanding. And yes, my child is African American attending a phenomenal charter school in San Francisco. This bill is a threat to charter schools, considering parents are rethinking their choices during this pandemic!!

    Replies

    • H 3 months ago3 months ago

      I envy you that your son’s school was doing a great job. Do you mind to reveal the school’s name or elaborate how they achieved that goal that kids did not lose the learning opportunities despite the pandemic? In our district, many parents are still seeking for options which can be proposed to the district leadership. Your help will be greatly valuable and appreciated.

      • G 3 months ago3 months ago

        New School of San Francisco. The school is consistently involving and engaging parents & students during meetings called coffee chats that occur throughout the week and whether you are able to attend or not like for single working parents like myself you can always read several posts that parents and students are able to post on parent square and share information within our school community. Our school continues to grow because of our families’ … Read More

        New School of San Francisco. The school is consistently involving and engaging parents & students during meetings called coffee chats that occur throughout the week and whether you are able to attend or not like for single working parents like myself you can always read several posts that parents and students are able to post on parent square and share information within our school community. Our school continues to grow because of our families’ values and thoughtful inquiry for all mission.

  12. Monique Verdin 3 months ago3 months ago

    It is unbelievable that all ADA for new students at non-classroom based charters for the 20-21 school year will not go to the students enrolled in these schools via AB 77. This strikes me as admittance that non-classroom based charters have a better and more attractive program, as these schools that enroll a fraction of students, are such a threat to the established educational system.

  13. Concerned Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    I just received notice that AB 77 will not allow funding for newly enrolled charter school families, only those enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year. If true, this is not the time to limit parent choice in public education, especially when districts and school boards are determining grades are optional, instructional minutes are drastically reduced and engagement in distance learning will not be enforced. Is this the best we can do for California public school families?

  14. Giselle Galper 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am parent and am concerned that what used to be homework will be included in the instructional minute total. Who is watching out to be sure our students are getting one full year of curriculum instruction?

  15. Steve P Manos 3 months ago3 months ago

    Great, informative article. Very thought-provoking. The "normal" needs of all: students, parents, staff, and the community are indeed magnified and the unified and comprehensive efforts to deliver a safe and equitable learning environment are a huge challenge and priority. I would like to see articles with stress on Student & Learning Supports (SLS) (aka Pupil Personnel Services in CA consisting of PPS credentialed School Social Workers, School Counselors, School Psychologists. And integrated into this component are … Read More

    Great, informative article. Very thought-provoking. The “normal” needs of all: students, parents, staff, and the community are indeed magnified and the unified and comprehensive efforts to deliver a safe and equitable learning environment are a huge challenge and priority.

    I would like to see articles with stress on Student & Learning Supports (SLS) (aka Pupil Personnel Services in CA consisting of PPS credentialed School Social Workers, School Counselors, School Psychologists. And integrated into this component are School Nurses with Health credentials).

    With this highly challenging and stressful adapting to the Pandemic we need to keep in mind and in our plans the contribution of and need for this SLS component that supports the other two major components of good schools: teaching and management. Teachers and administrators and the public do need to be reminded of essential supports to learning and well being/mental health that are provided by this sometimes overlooked but essential component. I am afraid our well intentioned efforts will fall short if we aren’t inclusive especially now.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Keep up the good reporting.

  16. Samuel Juria 3 months ago3 months ago

    The way the bill is written leaves a lot open to interpretation and makes it ripe for litigation from parents who want in-person instruction. For example, this article says "Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19". However, if you read the bill, what it actually says is that "Distance learning may be offered..." … Read More

    The way the bill is written leaves a lot open to interpretation and makes it ripe for litigation from parents who want in-person instruction. For example, this article says “Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19”. However, if you read the bill, what it actually says is that “Distance learning may be offered…” “…as a result of an order or guidance from a state public health officer or a local public health officer.”

    Here’s the problem: While we all understand what an “order” would look like, does “as a result of guidance” mean that a health officer has to issue specific guidance authorizing remote learning e.g. “due to the current state of COVID-19 spread, the district shall offer distance learning”? That apparently is how Marin County is interpreting this; their position is that the bill’s language essentially outlaws distance learning unless a health official explicitly orders it.

    On the other hand, “as a result of guidance” could be interpreted to mean that there’s guidance issued explaining how to safely do in-person instruction (which is the only guidance out there right now from any public health official; none of the issued guidance even mentions distance learning), but then districts can’t (or don’t want to) meet the guidance, and then essentially argue that they have to resort to distance learning “as a result” or not meeting the guidance.

  17. Lindsey 3 months ago3 months ago

    How does the bill affect schools that plan to offer a hybrid program?

  18. Laura Spencer 3 months ago3 months ago

    In the opener you say schools will need to provide daily interaction, but then you write that the bill encourages it. Which is it? There's also a big issue with funding in this bill. It's proposing funding for the 2020/21 school year to be "frozen" based on attendance from the 2019/20 school year. This means the state will not fund any school that experiences growth this next year. AB77, if passed, as written is designed to … Read More

    In the opener you say schools will need to provide daily interaction, but then you write that the bill encourages it. Which is it?

    There’s also a big issue with funding in this bill. It’s proposing funding for the 2020/21 school year to be “frozen” based on attendance from the 2019/20 school year. This means the state will not fund any school that experiences growth this next year. AB77, if passed, as written is designed to protect brick and mortar schools and provide them “safe harbor” due to decreased attendance based on the pandemic. That’s fine for Brick and Mortar schools.But if families choose to attend a non-classroom based charter school their tax dollars should not be denied.
    Schools who are experts in this virtual world should not be capped when our families and students need them most. There are distance learning schools which continued to provide high-quality education despite this pandemic. They should be celebrated as a model and not punished by capping attendance dollars.

    If Brick and Mortar schools are being protected, those schools that are growing to support the demand should also be protected. This bill is discriminatory, at best, and infringes on the rights of the school choice movement. It limits parents’ ability to choose and forces students to stay in programs that are not experts in this non-classroom based world.

    It’s not just about live interaction daily.

  19. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    Can you say more about how schools will be funded for ADA? What is going to count as attendance? Some schools are looking at a plan where students attend 2 days a week so that they have only half the students in a room at a time - will the attendance funding allow this? What about kids who are sick but not known to be exposed to COVID-19? In the past, it's been common and directly encouraged … Read More

    Can you say more about how schools will be funded for ADA? What is going to count as attendance?

    Some schools are looking at a plan where students attend 2 days a week so that they have only half the students in a room at a time – will the attendance funding allow this?

    What about kids who are sick but not known to be exposed to COVID-19? In the past, it’s been common and directly encouraged to send kids to school coughing and sneezing (sometimes even with fevers). That’s not going to fly now, but kids can have those symptoms for 2-3 weeks at a time. We need to have a plan to deliver education to those kids and also to pay the schools for them.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 months ago3 months ago

      el, school districts are assured of receiving funding based on their pre-COVIC-19 ADA in 2019-20. However, to receive this reimbursement, they still must meet a number of requirements for distance learning, such as keeping a record of daily student participation and establishing a system of contacting students who cannot be accounted for at least three days each week. You can find these requirements in Assembly Bill 77 sections 43503 and 43504.

  20. H 3 months ago3 months ago

    How do you in good conscience post this article about the bill and not mention what this bill is doing to already established home education charters? If you are going to educate the public with your stories you should be sure to include all of the details.

    Replies

    • HS Administrator 3 months ago3 months ago

      If the school is a public charter school (no matter what type), then most all of the above will apply to them too. Some elements may be adjusted (such as funding) in the temporary ed code details but most all of the instruction requirements above will apply.