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Thousands of Florida students lack online learning equipment
SARASOTA, Fla. – Tania Carrillo got a call at work in early March that one of her two kids might have been infected with COVID-19. The whole family may have been infected, she worried, and so they went into quarantine.
Little did Carrillo know that her family, like much of the United States, was about to enter a monthslong lockdown. One saving grace, she thought at the time, was that her two sons and nephew would be able to log on and not have to miss school.
What Carrillo couldn’t have guessed is that going to school online would threaten the children’s academic future.
Why? Because when one of her children logged on, there wasn’t enough bandwidth for the others to get online.
“No matter how much we wanted it to work, it just didn’t,” Carrillo said.
There’s a growing consensus amongst educators and parents that remote learning is harder on students than most people anticipated.
And it is more difficult for some than others.
In Sarasota and Manatee counties there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of students who don’t always have access to their classes because of slow or no internet or a lack technology.
According to a Pew Research Center study last month, 59% of low-income parents fear their kids are not going to be able to finish their work, will have to work on a cellphone or will need to use public Wi-Fi because they lack a computer or don’t have reliable internet.
While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many children are struggling with access, Manatee County school administrators got a good, though unscientific, snapshot of the issue in a recent survey of parents.
Of the 12,539 parents or guardians who responded to the survey, 12% have either slow internet or no internet at all. 28% of kids either have no computer or tablet, or they have to share a computer or tablet with others in the home.
Among the comments the district heard was that there were families who had multiple children e-learning but only one computer.
Cynthia Saunders, Manatee school superintendent, said the survey allows the district to see how bad the problem is and to look for ways to fix it.
According to Saunders, the district has bought mobile hotspots for every student who needed one. But in a lot of cases students still have trouble logging on because the hotspots don’t provide fast enough service, or the signal isn’t strong enough in some of the farther reaches of the county.
Even when there is access, mobile hotspots are a Band-Aid.
“I think that too has been a hardship for some kids,” she said. “That’s the best you can do, so, other than that, you bring them back in.”
Manatee County began the process of allowing remote students back into schools this week.
Sarasota County schools has not done a districtwide survey about students’ access this school year, Kelsey Whealy, a spokeswoman for the district, wrote in an email.
Individual schools, though, are in regular contact with families and work with the departments within the district to get them help if they need it, she said. And when the district isn’t able to provide a solution, it connects students and families with local nonprofits that can help out.
“School administrators will always attempt to work with families to provide students with what they need – devices and internet access,” Whealy wrote in an email. “Ultimately, families have been, and are, responsible for ensuring they have access to the required resources to be successful in remote learning.”
One way the county is trying to assist families is by using federal money earmarked for COVID-19 relief to help get internet service.
The county will use money from the CARES Act to pay for as many as 18,000 low-income families to get service through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program. The program offers two free months of service to new customers and a monthly bill capped at $9.95.
To participate, parents have to live in an area where the service is available and qualify for the national school lunch program, housing assistance or other needs-based assistance.
A county spokesman said this week that the final cost of the program has still not been determined, but it will be fully funded.
But, like in Manatee where the hotspots don’t work for everyone, even the best possible solutions don’t always solve a family’s problems.
Shakeeta McKenzie is a Comcast customer who qualified for the Essentials program. When she signed up two months ago, she thought having internet service would take the pressure off sending her three kids back to school, but instead she’s faced with a new set of problems.
Her three kids, who attend Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota, have trouble getting online sometimes, which means they miss classes and can’t do assignments. She said this happens when all three of them have to be in class at same time.
While she says teachers and the school have done a good job staying in contact and helping, she worries her children will miss classes and fail.
Comcast spokeswoman Cynthia Arco said the provider increased its speeds for the Essentials program to 25/3 Mbps in March in response to the pandemic. That is the slowest speed that qualifies as “broadband” according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Arco said that bandwidth is strong enough to handle a heavy load and allows multiple people to be on at once and to stream high-definition videos.
That’s not the case at McKenzie’s home, though.
“One of them will do it, then other one will do it,” she said of her kids logging into class. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
BACK TO SCHOOL?
Even for families and kids who don’t have technical or connectivity issues, e-learning is not easy and might not be the right fit.
Saunders said in order for students to succeed at e-learning, they need to be very self-disciplined. A student sitting at a computer at home is more likely to struggle with distractions than a student in a classroom with a teacher providing structure and support.
“I think they miss it,” she said. E-learning “has served a purpose. It has helped us to have a semblance of education continuing, even though it’s not ideal for everybody. But what I think we’re seeing more and more is that people feel more comfortable coming back into the building. And that’s a good thing. That’s what we do best anyway.”
In Carrillo’s case, she did everything right. She got laptops from the schools, she set up a workspace and she paid extra to boost the internet speed at home. Yet, despite her best efforts, there were still problems.
“There were times when I was doing homework at 10 o’clock at night with Alan,” she said, referring to her 11-year-old son. “At that hour, the internet was a little bit faster, but, you know, at that time of night a child is already exhausted.”
So, in order to keep their grades from falling, Carrillo found a way to solve the problem.
She packed them off to school.
For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune.
Author: Louis Llovio, Herald-Tribune, Associated Press
Anniston City Schools contracts for more school nurses, teacher training for online classes
Anniston’s school board voted 5-0 Thursday to contract with the medical staffing company ATC Healthcare to provide school nurses if the school system needs them — and school officials say it’s likely they will.
There are only three nurses on staff in the school system now, Superintendent Ray Hill said. COVID-19 has not only increased the need for nurses, it’s made them harder to hold on to.
“We lost a nurse because she found out she was able to work as a traveling nurse, and COVID is a concern for some because they have underlying conditions,” Hill said.
The city’s school system operates a high school, a middle school, three elementary schools and a combined pre-K/kindergarten facility at the former Cobb Elementary. School board members say the system has never had enough school nurses.
“Technically speaking, we should have a nurse at each school,” said school board president Robert Houston. “I don’t recall a time, since I’ve been on the board, that we’ve ever had that.”
The ATC agreement would allow the school system to hire temporary nurses for around $70 per day, Hill said, if there’s a shortfall in nursing staff. Full-time staff take time to hire, Hill said, which leaves a potential gap if someone leaves.
School board members also voted 5-0 to hire the educational consulting firm Flexible Creativity to help the school with professional development — particularly when it comes to online learning.
School staff at the Thursday meeting said that when Anniston teachers were polled on their biggest professional development need, 72 percent said they needed more instruction on Schoology, the school system’s online teaching platform. In another poll, 30 percent of Anniston teachers said they didn’t have the resources to make the online curriculum work.
“It is the fault of no one in this room that Schoology was rushed, because it was,” school board member Joan Frazier said. “Everyone was rushed.”
Under the agreement, Hill said, the school system would pay $2,700 to $3,000 for the first two to three days of instruction by Flexibly Creativity, with additional costs if more days of training are needed.
The board also voted to accept a bid by the food service company Osborne Brothers to provide meals if the school system gets approval for its “supper club” plan — a plan to provide some students with a meal at the end of the day in addition to free lunch and school breakfast.
Johanna Martin said that by accepting the bid, the school system would be able to buy food as part of a consortium that includes Birmingham schools that also offer end-of-day meals.
Hill said that if the federal government approves the meal plan, it will reimburse the school system for its cost.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
Author: Tim Lockette, Star Staff Writer, email@example.com
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[Press Release] Teachers commend DEPED-NCR for a clear policy on work-from-home set-up, challenge the central office to implement its order -TDC
#HumanRights #Education Teachers commend DEPED-NCR for a clear policy on work-from-home set-up, challenge the central office to implement its order
While the issue of work arrangement during the pandemic has been a contested matter in most parts of the country, the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) recognizes the clear-cut instruction from DepEd-NCR Regional Office which according to them is in accordance with the letters and spirit of the DepEd Order NO. 11, 2020, or the alternative work arrangement in the agency during the national health emergency.
“We appreciate this initiative from the DepEd-NCR regional director, a proof that he not only abides by the orders of the higher-ups but more importantly, he empathizes with the teachers and cares for their welfare,” said Ildefonso Enguerra III, a teacher in Manila and the president of TDC-NCR Teachers’ Union (TDC-NCRTU), the group’s regional chapter in Metro Manila.
In the said memorandum released by DepEd-NCR Director Malcolm Garma last week, the official reiterated that teachers are generally “in work from home arrangement except those authorized by the regional director.” The memorandum added that teachers “may physically report to school voluntarily and on a limited basis only” to accomplish several tasks that cannot be done remotely.
“We received reports even from the NCR that teachers were required to report physically to their schools to accomplish tasks like printing and sorting of learning modules. We reject it for these tasks are not in our job description as teachers, except if teachers would want to do it voluntarily. Since there is a national policy and the DepEd in several occasions had expressed that the modules are already prepared prior to the opening of classes, there is no need for our overburdened teachers to further work physically for these modules,” Enguerra added.
The NCR memorandum further said that a maximum of 30% of the total workforce- teaching and non-teaching may be asked to report to school to help in the distribution of gadgets and for the retrieval and replenishment of modules “but not in printing, sorting and packing of modules and learner packets.”
Meanwhile, Emmalyn Policarpio, the Secretary-General of TDC said that the DepEd Order NO. 11, s. 2020 should be implemented with uniformity.
“If the DepEd-NCR director can follow the order, why others cannot?” She asked. “We recognize that there are circumstances that would necessitate physical reporting, but it should not be done on a daily basis and shall not involve all the teachers,” Policarpio added.
Policarpio, a teacher in Valenzuela City and also the Vice President of TDC-NCRTU cited a memorandum obtained from the official website of DepEd Cebu Province directing “all teachers, school-based non-teaching personnel, school heads, and PSDSs to report daily in their respective stations starting Monday, October 19, 2020, except those with health comorbidities.” The said memorandum signed by Dr. Marilyn Andales, the school’s division superintendent for Cebu province further directed all teachers, school-based non-teaching staff, school heads, and supervisors “to stay and do their work/activities in respective classrooms and offices (while no pupil is around)” purportedly to adhere to the IATF’s Social Distancing Measure and prevent further spread of Covid-19 virus.
“This memorandum from Cebu for instance has contradictions in itself,” Policarpio said. According to her, the DepEd Order No. 11, s. 2020 and several clarifications issued by the DepEd Central Office clearly reiterated that the default work arrangement for teachers is the work-from-home (WFH) scheme. She added that “The Order further said that physical or on-site reporting shall only be considered if the tasks and functions of the personnel cannot be rendered through alternative or remote modalities, subject to strict guidelines in consideration of IATF, CSC and DepEd rules. Is checking of modules or conduct of online classes be strictly done in school?”
The TDC, through Policarpio, has sent a letter addressed to Secretary Leonor Briones prior to the October 5 opening of classes to seek clarification on the work arrangements that will be implemented for DepEd classroom teachers and other employees beginning October 5.
“The Central Office must step in. In order to make things clear and to avoid comparison and confusion in the field and to eliminate the hashtag #SanaAll in social media posts of our teachers. We are in one department, yet we have so many contradicting policies from one place to another. The implementation and the hashtag should be #DapatAll,” Policarpio ended.
The DepEd has yet to respond to the formal letter of the TDC referring to the DepEd Order No. 11, s. 2020 and the subsequent clarification under DM-PHRODFO-2020-00198 issued by Undersecretaries Revsee A. Escobedo and Jesus L.R. Mateo on June 22, 2020. Undersecretary Escobedo, in fact, made two formal replies addressed to Policarpio dated July 9, 2020, and August 9, 2020, affirming the validity of TDC’s claim that work-from-home is the default set-up regardless of the quarantine category. Metro Manila is placed under GCQ while Cebu is under a more relaxed MGCQ.
Ildefonso “Nono” Engeurra III, TDC-NCRTU President
Emmalyn Policarpio, Secretary-General
October 21, 2020
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