By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In less than a month, Seattle Public Schools starts the 2020-2021 year.
Two weeks ago, the district announced the new year will start the same way the last one ended – no in-person classes.
But many details of how that’ll work have yet to be rolled out, and – especially given the deficiencies of the final three months of last year – that’s a source of frustration for many families.
Some of them were in a video/phone meeting Friday night in which they hoped for answers, but were disappointed there too.
The meeting was promoted as a conversation with the second-term school board rep for West Seattle and South Park, Leslie Harris. She joined the meeting almost an hour late, attributed to technical difficulties; host Manuela Slye, the West Seattleite who leads the Seattle Council PTSA (which sponsored the meeting), and another board rep, North Seattle’s Liza Rankin, kept conversation going until Harris could connect.
But even then, there were no answers. Harris noted that the board has a work session tomorrow (Wednesday, August 5) to talk about reopening. Here are some of the concerns voiced:
A parent was having trouble with a waitlist and getting communication. She is also concerned about live online instruction -she and her husband are working online from home, and their child has ADHD.
Harris said that’s “still being worked out” regarding “baselines” and “accountability.” She advised reaching out to principal and teacher ASAP – and finding out about an IEP – the parent said she’d done all that and needed more accommodation from the school. She feels like sacrificing her child’s education might be the end result. Harris offered to help ensure the parent gets some response from the district.
Another parent asked about child care for families with outside-the-home jobs. Rankin said, “There has been child care happening” in some SPS buildings, and they’re still trying to figure out how many seats will be available. Providers won’t be doing the educating but will help kids who should all have had devices provided by the start of school. Will city-owned buildings like Hiawatha Community Center be open? Contact your city councilmember, said Rankin, because the city has not been helpful so far.
The next to speak was another frustrated parent of a special-ed student, with autism. Harris said she understood some in-person special-ed classes will be offered. The parent said her school has changed principals and she hasn’t even heard from her child’s teacher yet.
A parent who described herself as new to the district also expressed a desire for more communication. Harris said there was outreach in June but acknowledged it probably wasn’t enough. She also said educators are still talking about how to not repeat mistakes made last spring. The district website has lots of info, she noted.
Even more questions:
What online video platform will be used? asked one parent, who said YouTube was inappropriate. Harris replied that Zoom or Teams are what she believes they’ll be using.
Another parent was disappointed to hear that things are still being worked out – she had hoped the meeting would have more answers. Wealthier parents are hiring tutors, she noted. And she also mentioned the child-care dilemma.
“Those answers are not out there,” Harris repeated, whlle saying it’s “extraordinarily distressing” not to have them. Teachers are still negotiating working conditions, “and until those negotiations are done, we don’t know.”
A participant identifying herself as a teacher then spoke up saying they’re working on the platform issues, for example, but it’s happening more school by school than district wide.
Since the call, we’ve heard from one of the parents who participated, whose elementary-student son needs assistance with learning disabilities. “They want families back in the workforce to improve the economy? Well, families want safe, equitable, and appropriate education for our students. So far, it seems far from that,” she said. “Mrs. Harris offered no answers when I asked her about how they plan to provide 1:1 support to students with disabilities during remote instruction. There also seems to be no plan to connect with families prior to school starting to discuss measurable annual goals and present level of performance. Both are crucial and necessary to providing an appropriate education, which public schools are bound by law to do.” She added that she’s not faulting school staff: “Teachers need the support of SPS leadership and proper professional development to deliver the model the district is falling back on for the fall.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Here’s the agenda for tomorrow’s work session, which starts at 12:30 pm; it includes information on how to watch, as well as the slide deck that will be used. The board’s reopening-related votes are scheduled for a meeting a week later, on August 12th.
Before then, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau has an online “town hall” 4:30-5 pm today – here’s info on how to watch/participate.