Sacramento-area teachers react to plans for an online fall

In the wake of the news that public school campuses in Sacramento County will stay closed when instruction resumes in the fall, teachers are reacting with mixtures of relief and concern for their students, all while preparing for the upcoming school year.

The Sacramento County Office of Education announced Wednesday that its 13 districts, which serve more than 250,000 students from kindergarten through high school, will continue distance learning programs they implemented in the spring through the fall. The decision, made by schools officials, comes amid rising Covid-19 cases in the state, country and county.

Lori Jablonski is a government and geography teacher at C.K. McClatchy High School. She said that, amid rising cases and growing restrictions, the decision was expected. But even before the announcement, she struggled with the challenges online learning will present.

“I’m trying to view this as a challenge we can meet. I love teaching, and the prospect of starting without meeting my kids in person is difficult,” she said. “And trying very hard to figure out how I’m going to try to connect with my kids. And how do I do that?”

Now, she’s considering making individual phone calls with each of her approximately 160 students, among other ideas to connect with students. She says the worrying about how best to serve students ‘makes it hard to sleep at night.’

She also stressed the importance of connecting with students who never logged on when classes went online in the spring.

“We know there were hundreds who never got connected,” Jablonski said. “And now is the time to be figuring out why; who they are, where they are. We lost kids. And that’s another thing that keeps me up at night.”

With these concerns in mind, Jablonski is hitting the ground running as she actively prepares to create the best possible learning environment for her students in the fall.

Just hours before the announcement came, she and a group of teachers submitted a list of issues they wanted the district to consider in ongoing conversations with the teachers’ union: internet access for students and teachers, online textbooks and how school supplies would be delivered to students who cannot pick them up.

“The teachers are eager to start planning. We want (online learning) to work much better than the way it worked in the springtime. We really want this to serve our students in the meantime,” Jablonski said.

Other teachers wrestled with their own concerns, but were thankful that the long-awaited news had arrived. Alice Mercer, an elementary school teacher at Hubert Bancroft Elementary, was relieved that she and her coworkers could exit the state of “limbo” that came with awaiting a decision.

“I’m feeling better for my coworkers,” Mercer said. “Folks were really stressed out.”

Meanwhile, Mercer hopes that the school will continue planning for a future when teachers and students are brought back into the classroom.

“And as that happens, we’re going to have to talk seriously about the amount of money that will be required to make sure the kids and the adults in school are safe.”

Christina Setzer is a child development teacher at Sacramento City Unified School District and has two children enrolled in its schools. She said she felt relief for her own family’s health, but is grappling with the challenges distance learning presents.

“Immediately my mind jumped to, ‘How are we going to provide distance learning in a way that’s prompting equity, and meeting the needs of families?’ That’s going to be a real challenge,” Setzer said.

Sertzer is also considering how best to juggle teaching from home while her children take classes online.

“I’m thinking of ways that I can get my children on a normalized schedule,” she said. “Since this is a new normal, I need to create schedules and ways to most effectively help them in their learning.”

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