Seattle Public Schools parents voice frustration while awaiting a plan; board ‘work session’ tomorrow

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.

31 Replies to "Seattle Public Schools parents voice frustration while awaiting a plan; board 'work session' tomorrow"

  • Kristine Duncan August 4, 2020 (11:22 am)

    As a teacher in Seattle, I would also add that teachers have not yet heard any details from the district on the fall plan. The lack of communication with staff has been extremely frustrating. I’m hoping to find out something, anything at all, from the superintendent’s (extremely short) town hall session today. 

    • SPS Teacher August 4, 2020 (2:15 pm)

      I completely agree. I’m a teacher and I’m also very frustrated at the lack of leadership and communication from the district office. My principal and fellow teachers really want to get a head start on the year but are unable to do so because of the district’s policy of putting their head in the sand and hoping it all gets better

      • K teacher August 4, 2020 (5:47 pm)

        Another SPS teacher here—- the above is true. We have been given VERY little information from downtown and administration. I know that my own team has been planning on what platform, that we want to use, how we are starting the year, etc. 

  • High Point August 4, 2020 (12:15 pm)

    Paragraph 9(?) “Providers won’t be doing the educating but will help kids who should all have had devices provided by the start of school”Is there any further explanation on what the second half of this sentence means? This is the first I have heard of kids having devices provided.

    • Vanessa August 4, 2020 (2:30 pm)

      SPS & Amazon made laptops available last spring. Amazon provided Chromebooks to elementary-aged children in need of a device, free of charge and to keep. My daughter received one. The only glitch was that when we chose the child settings for the laptop, we couldn’t access the relevant YouTube video tutorials (considered adult content). Also, the sound function didn’t work in ZOOM meetings, an issue others experienced. The tech isn’t perfect and the method is new to teachers & students, so it makes sense that the online education platform will take time to iron out – however frustrating that is for us parents.

      • GH August 4, 2020 (10:55 pm)

        Actually, the district is reporting that they will be delivering devices to all students in August. I believe the statement is referring to that plan.

  • SeattleTeacher August 4, 2020 (12:18 pm)

    I am also a Seattle teacher and agree that it is difficult to plan without information from the district.  However, I am glad they are holding off presenting us with a plan until they really have one.  I’d hate to get a preliminary idea based on old data, spend my summer working on materials for that format, then find out it was all wasted effort.

  • Craig August 4, 2020 (12:51 pm)

    Do something SPS admin/leaders! Your assignment is way late and you keep saying the dog ate your homework. The teachers are going to catch the blame for the analysis paralysis and that’s not fair for them. As mentioned in the article, we’re already seeing the privileged families break away and logically fend for themselves with private tutors, self selected peer group classes, etc, and that only makes the rest of the classes/students worse off as some get sprung forward, while others (that need it most) will be left behind. SPS should at least set and share clear standards for video software (Zoom? Teams?), give teachers technical tools and training to use software as admins, give students guidance on how and when to learn (desks, technology, etc), and most of all address how families can manage teaching while working. I’m frustrated and get it’s not easy, but SPS hasn’t impressed me with their leadership at all. 

    • Anne August 4, 2020 (1:57 pm)

      Love how you  use term “ privileged” like  it’s a dirty word. You know not ALL  who seek out private education-whatever form it takes  are wealthy – by any stretch of the imagination. Many are making mighty sacrifices-like  all parents do -to finance that private learning. They are not at fault for the shortcomings  in SPS -(which has been mismanaged / not held accountable for years)for seeking out that learning . All pay taxes-that fund schools -many even have kids in both public & private schools . 

      • Gatewood Parent August 4, 2020 (8:14 pm)

        Oh, get over yourself. Paying for private school means you’re privileged. I say that as someone with a household income of $250k+, so I know privilege. And in this case, we’re talking mostly about people bailing out now, when their enrollment in the district is critical for several reasons. There are startups forming specifically to help privileged families find private teachers because they just can’t bear the thought of their precious children losing any educational advantage, even in a pandemic.

        • Anne August 7, 2020 (11:32 am)

          Sorry but you are are dead wrong-to label everyone who sends their kids to private school”privileged” Your anger is misplaced- it should be directed at SPS & it’s mismanagement for years. Until they are truly held accountable nothing will change – until teachers make a living wage-nothing will change-less money to administrative salaries- more to teachers & school infrastructure. Grateful is how we feel about having sent our kids to private school- & gee we did it without making anywhere close to your $250,000-I mean we couldn’t see that figure with binoculars. 

      • AN August 4, 2020 (9:00 pm)

        “Privileged” doesn’t mean “money”. It means any of myriad advantages–the color of your skin, having a support system, two-parent households, Internet access, etc., that gives one a leg up. You bring up all paying taxes, but don’t acknowledge longstanding racist redlining practices that tie school funding with home values. Privilege indeed.

        • Anne August 7, 2020 (11:37 am)

          So you’re thinking that the only kids in private school are ones that come from families that have never experienced any of the things you mention? Wrong.

  • Lisa August 4, 2020 (1:56 pm)

    I am also extremely disappointed with the meeting. The lack of answers was frustrating. I am becoming more stressed out about online learning and childcare than I am about working on the frontline caring for Covid-19 patients. Having no directions about what the format of the education will be makes me wonder what communication there has been between the teaching and support staff and the school board. Live remote learning is going to be very difficult for parents who are working outside the home. My children were able to occasionally get on ZOOM meetings withe their class at the YMCA  but it was inconsistent. Hopefully recordings will be made. The SPStv channel was not a good option. I am hoping the communication and plan will improve but I am becoming doubtful.

  • Person August 4, 2020 (2:03 pm)

    Rough.I see our family’s options as :1. Filter EVERY assignment through us to check for work quality or hire a tutor to do it.2. Move to a district with higher expectations.3. Charter school.I’ve always felt like I could defend our choice to stay in Seattle schools. It’s becoming harder to do so.

  • Mad and Sad August 4, 2020 (2:25 pm)

    This gives me such a heavy heart. I am without words. My child will be a senior in high school and it sounds like it will be more of the same that we experienced in the spring. (HUGE FAIL) Seriously, they don’t even know what platform they will be using?  Remote learning (at least partially) has been something that has been on the table since the end of last school year.  I was really hoping that in the last 4 weeks, with no school in session, we would be farther along with the plan. How frustrating! Come on SPS, GET IT TOGETHER!

  • Bye bye 👋 August 4, 2020 (3:15 pm)

    It’s official my husband and I have signed both of our children up for private online school (at least they are designed to handle online classes). I have no faith in Seattle Public schools. I do not believe they will have a curriculum put in place by next month that will keep my kids on track for college. Good luck everyone!!

    • Person August 4, 2020 (4:22 pm)

      If you don’t mind my asking, which did you choose? I’m toying with this option or buying a homeschool curriculum.

    • Privateisntalwaysbetter August 4, 2020 (5:51 pm)

      Trust teachers. They are experts. They know how to deliver instruction, they know where children should be developmentally. Let them do their jobs. Teachers were heroes two months ago, now, not so much.I also love how many of you think no one is doing anything. It’s completely untrue. Admin, teachers, SEA, district employees are working their butts off to try to make this work. No one has the answers that everyone wants. This situation won’t please everyone. But I can assure you teachers will no llonger be teaching in crisis mode. SEA is working on behalf of you, your children and its members. Do you know how many people have been working all summer and even before school got out? I don’t have the exact numbers, but it’s a lot of people trying to make this work. Will your new private school support its teachers, its students and parents? Give these people fighting for our kids and families some credit where credit is due. 

  • Zark00 August 4, 2020 (3:24 pm)

    Only word I can think of to describe this – pathetic.

  • SpecEdMom August 4, 2020 (3:39 pm)

    To be this close to the start of the school year without a plan in place is completely unacceptable.  The Superintendent will only talk about equity, no plans to make things equitable.  SPS has failed our children with disabilities for too many years and they continue to be left behind.  The teachers are doing the absolute best jobs they can, but lack of leadership and poor planning will make this another fail for education in Seattle this fall.  I have a child with a significant IEP and we only heard from the school because I pushed the issue and even then the support for my child was almost nonexistent.  If you think homeschooling your child is difficult, try homeschooling a child with special needs. Parents of children with disabilities need support.  Our family has the privilege to have jobs that allow us to have time to support our children, those children with disabilities that don’t have parents available at home to support them are the ones that will truly suffer, Superintendent Juneau providing an education that is EQUITABLE means that you support children with disabilities as well.   

  • Mad and Sad August 4, 2020 (5:11 pm)

    The only reason we are sticking with SPS this year is so my child can take advantage of the Seattle Promise after graduation. Two years at a community college for no cost is the carrot that is keeping us hanging on. Disabilities or not, I don’t think any child is getting a quality education if it is a repeat of the spring. 

  • Seattle parent August 4, 2020 (6:05 pm)

    @mad and sad- I understand your frustration! If your child is a rising senior and you’re planning on Seattle Promise after he graduates, you could consider Running Start for the coming year. It’s not too late, and it’s a great program. My son did full-time Running Start last year for his junior year, and given the chaos in SPS, we were especially grateful for his more stable situation. Plus, he earned college credits. He’ll be full-time Running Start for this coming year, as well, with very good teachers who are set up to teach online without difficulty. If that’s also possible for your child, he’d have a full year of college credits in place before utilizing Seattle Promise. Good luck! 

  • Ez rider August 4, 2020 (7:00 pm)

    It is infuriating, yet unsurprising, that sps has yet to work out a viable action plan. THEY HAVE HAD SINCE MARCH to work out a system. Online classes have been a waste of time to a large degree and we saw as little as 10% attendance during zoom class meetings. Please let that sink in. Where are these kids, and what are they doing? My kid is 7 and we had to order our own resources to teach him how to read. Online games and screen time apps tap into different parts of the brain, and we had to come up with our own methods to get back to basics and actually have the information click. And extracurricular enrichment & social development are gone w this model as well. I had to quit my job to stay home w my son. We are hanging on by a thread. The community, while usually kind and supportive, has failed us here. Private tutors and micro schools cost upwards of 2k a month. This is unsustainable for that majority of us. What is frightening is that there is no “good news” in sight. Are we going to have to prepare for the whole year to be remote? Two? Many schools in europe have already opened! Our kids are falling behind their peers globally. I saw kids in Korea w fairy wings for social distancing, and masks. Where there is a will, there is a way! Please help us help our kids!

  • Tomas August 4, 2020 (7:10 pm)

    Exactly, you are all right.  What I don’t understand is why no on is asking, or demanding that there is an agreement that SPS holds all kids back one year. Half of last year was lost and it looks like pretty much all of this year will be a loss.  Having all students stay in their same grade for 2020/2021 and then again for 2021/2022 (assuming a vaccine is ready by then) is really the only equitable option here that would treat all students, regardless of income or race the same.

    • Alki resident August 4, 2020 (7:43 pm)

      Sorry but nobody is pushing a vaccine ever on my kids. I also don’t agree with holding kids back. This won’t do them any favors. 

      • Joe Z August 4, 2020 (9:57 pm)

        Then your kids are never going back to school. 

      • Mmarie August 5, 2020 (12:06 am)

        The blame for lack of a plan sits with the Superintendent of SPS. 

  • 1994 August 4, 2020 (10:37 pm)

    Check out Summit Public Schools – they have it together and are organized, ready to start the school year August 18 & 19.  Summit Sierra is a small, personalized college-prep public high school in the Chinatown International District, grade 9-12. Summit Atlas has grades 6 to 12, located at 35th & Roxbury. Much more organized than SPS!!

  • Lisa August 5, 2020 (9:16 pm)

    Teacher from Kitsap county here. We are not in a much better position than our Seattle counterparts. We have not been told anything beyond- use google for education tools (which we have been using for over 3 years) and at the secondary level, plan on recording “lessons” of no more than 5 minutes. Use google meets for social emotional learning And individual questions twice a week for 45 minutes. I am not sure how to teach math like that.

  • EDUCATORMOM August 5, 2020 (10:28 pm)

    Actually, a lot of the planning is hinged upon the outcomes of the Seattle Education Association (SEA-the teachers’ union) bargaining with SPS, which is ongoing. As soon as that’s done,  there could be more clarity. Updates from SEA can be found here:

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