June 14, 2021

CA schools move ahead with fall distance learning plans despite limitations

Canva Studio – Pexels

While parents and state officials are pushing to fully reopen campuses this fall, some families are fearful of sending their kids back into classrooms too soon. But options for distance learning this fall are unclear across the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he expects schools to fully reopen after the distance learning statute expires on June 30 and that students who want to continue with remote learning can pursue existing independent study plans. But some are critical of independent study. Although schools receive funding for students in independent study, some say the model has been used to push low-achieving students out of schools and lack accountability over academic experiences and outcomes for students.

Now, some parents, education and civil rights advocacy groups are urging Newsom to extend and strengthen the 2020-21 distance learning provisions for the upcoming school year.

“Pandemic recovery isn’t happening in a uniform way. There’s a much larger impact on low-income communities, and we want to make sure they have high-quality distance learning opportunities if they need it,” said Victor Leung, director of education equity at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “We have had lots of folks in independent study (pre-pandemic), and it hasn’t provided high-quality instruction. It’s seen as a way to push students out of school.”

Many districts are now asking parents what they want for fall to figure out how many online students they can expect. What remains unclear, however, is how districts can set up online programs for groups of students within an independent study framework that was initially meant for one-off circumstances.

Under current law, the state funds school districts based on their average daily attendance in the current or prior school year, whichever is higher, and that includes students both physically in classrooms and those enrolled in an independent study program.

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