La Cañada Unified distance learning extended to May 5, grading to begin after spring break

LCUSD board members convened Tuesday in a remote meeting to discuss updates on distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sara Cardine)

La Cañada Unified School District officials announced in a remote board meeting Tuesday several new updates on distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic and declared physical school campuses will now remain closed until May 5.

LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette said she’d negotiated a memo of understanding with the district’s LCTA teachers union stipulating the Friday before and the Monday after spring break (April 3 and April 13) would be non-instructional planning days to allow instructors to prepare for a transition to a grading system.

After the transition, every other Friday will be a non-instructional planning day for the remainder of the school year. Although it’s still unclear how grades will ultimately be assessed, especially at the high school level, Sinnette said it was important to maintain accountability throughout the long haul.

“As we look to potentially extend our school closures in time, it’s important that we have a concrete plan and the capacity to progress the curriculum, have participation with the lessons be mandatory and to provide grades and accountability,” she said.

Teachers are to report students not participating in online lessons to school administrators, who will follow up directly with families and enlist the help of school counselors as needed.

Students began distance learning shortly after school campuses closed March 13, though assignments have not been mandatory and official grades have not been recorded.

Earlier Tuesday, State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond urged county-level school superintendents to embrace distance learning as the new normal, as “it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the year.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said school districts and families throughout the state should have “the expectation now that schools will not reopen, but classes are in,” according to the L.A. Times.

Despite state officials’ assessments, school board members held out hope for a scenario in which La Cañada High School seniors might still potentially participate in graduation and end-of-the-year events.

“It’s so important for us to think ahead and see if there’s the potential of us coming back together again as our students end the school year,” said board member Kaitzer Puglia said of the extension. “So I’d like to take it one step at the time.”

In the meantime, AP exams will be conducted remotely during a 45-minute online free response session that will cover only material studied before school closures began and will allow students to use materials and resources at their disposal.

During an exhaustive discussion of the school district’s multidepartmental response to the crisis, board members heard from parents feeling overwhelmed with having to supervise their children’s learning in instances where, they claimed, teachers do not seem to be taking an active enough role.

Others expressed worries that students requiring special education services would not receive the close and personal therapy and instruction outlined in Individualized Education Program plans, due to social-distancing expectations.

Sinnette described a steep learning curve and said teachers, many of whom are working from home while dealing with their own children, were engaging as much as they could and that, with assistance, would improve with time.

“There isn’t a teacher in this district who isn’t working to their maximum capacity,” she said. “That said, there isn’t a parent in this district who isn’t working as hard as they can to support their families and children. Please be kind, be gracious — we’re in this together.”

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