‘I think we might be missing something that’s more dangerous’

LBUSD approves state-required learning plan, but parents and teachers worry about student mental health.

‘I think we might be missing something that’s more dangerous’

Courtesy LBUSD

During a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education approved a 2020-21 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCAP) as required under Senate Bill (SB) 98.

The bill– which the governor signed into law on June 29– requires education agencies such as LBUSD to submit a formal plan for the academic year that helps minimize student-learning disruption due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies must adopt plans by Sept. 30 and submit them to the state by Oct. 5 to receive state and federal education-relief funds.

LBUSD’s adopted LCAP went through multiple drafts over the summer, incorporating feedback the district received via surveys and stakeholder engagement. Hundreds of parents, teachers and activists also addressed the board directly during its bimonthly meetings over the past three months.

Some of those speakers thanked LBUSD and the board during the meeting for listening and incorporating their concerns into the plan, noting that implementation and accountability are the next steps.

Tonia Reyes Uranga, who is running for the District 2 school-board seat in the Nov. 3 election, said she appreciated the board taking parent feedback seriously.

“I’ve seen parents with their children– they’re out there eating sometimes, they’re out there in the sun for an hour-and-a-half waiting to talk to you,” she said. “And to know that you’ve listened to them I think is extremely important.”

As per the State’s requirements, the LCAP includes LBUSD’s plans for distance learning and in-person instruction, such as ensuring student access to devices and connectivity and implementing health-and-safety measures at schools.

The plan also covers continuing school meal provision and parent outreach, and supporting staff and student “mental health and social and emotional well-being.”

However, according to parents and teachers who continued to vocalize concerns to the board at the Sept. 29 meeting, students still suffer frustrating equipment issues, migraines from excessive screen-time and emotional breakdowns from online hours and isolation.

Mariela Salgado, a Long Beach Parks and Recreation commissioner who has been vocal about the LCAP, allowed her young daughter to share her experience with the board.

Mariela Salgado and her daughter speak about student distress at the Sept. 29 LBUSD Board of
Education meeting. (Courtesy LBUSD )

“I am worried because in my class, half of the students are having [microphone] troubles with their Chromebooks,” Salgado’s daughter said.

Debbie Bober, a third-grade teacher, shared her experience of a representative student she called Johnny who also had trouble connecting.

She described how Johnny logs in late from his bed because no one in his home can help him.

Then either the video or microphone does not work so she can’t hear him.

There is also parental yelling in the background and Johnny moves with his Chromebook from room to room to find a quieter place, or a place with better connectivity because the connection keeps dropping, Bober said.

“I’m just telling you right from my heart,” she said. “This is a kid that I’m failing because I can’t help those things, I can’t fix that. […] I cannot meet the needs of my students right now.”

One parent, David Pulitzer, described how his once school-loving third-grade daughter is having a hard time coping with the amount of time online and cries most mornings because she does not want to attend school via Zoom.

He urged the board to consider opening the schools for hybrid learning, which is alternately online and in-person. LBUSD has stated on Sept. 10 that schools won’t reopen for students until Jan. 28.

Scott Allen, another parent and also teacher, said he’s watched his daughter “decline” with online learning and also advocated opening schools, despite the health risk.

“Not going back might be more of a risk,” Allen said. “I think the mental health is… you can’t see it sometimes. […] There’s things we’re missing and I think we might be missing something that’s more dangerous.”

Some commenters– both in person and in read emails– advocated, among other things, that LBUSD facilitate students connecting more with each other and supporting their social and emotional well-being better, such as by providing counselors on school sites for mental-health support.

Sarah Cameron Bennett, a parent of two high-schoolers, also advocated for earlier school reopening.

Bennett said that after the district announced on Sept. 10 postponing the school reopening date from Oct. 5 to Jan. 28, she helped start a Facebook group called Reopen Long Beach Schools that now has 1,700 members.

“We are concerned with the mental health of our own children who are suffering from anxiety and depression,” Bennett said. “We’re worried about those kids learning to read in kindergarten through third grade, kids with special needs kids that are not logging into Zoom meetings and we have fretted over those that simply are neglected or abused at home.”

Bennett reminded the board that LBUSD had given parents a choice in an August survey of committing their children to a hybrid learning structure or online learning.

“Then you took that choice away,” she told the board. “Be transparent. Tell us your target, tell us your objective, tell us whether this is about politics or liability.”

LBUSD Board President Diana Craighead said that while everyone would prefer having students in classrooms, it depends on when the number of LA County’s coronavirus cases reduce from the lowest of Governor Gavin Newsom’s color-coded coronavirus tiers to the next for a period of 14 days. LA County is currently in the “purple” zone of widespread virus cases.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic,” Craighead said.

She added that the board’s decision to extend LBUSD’s school reopening date to Jan. 28 was to provide consistency and stability to its students rather than bringing kids back to school and then closing again.

In a possible sign of change, LA County announced Sept. 29 that elementary schools, including those in Long Beach, can soon apply for waivers to resume in-person instruction for kindergarten through second-grade students.

“The program will begin accepting applications in early October for 30 schools per week and prioritize the issuance of waivers to schools with higher percentages of students qualified for free/reduced meals,” the LA County Health Department said.

In the meantime, Craighead emphasized that the sooner coronavirus cases get under control, the sooner the LBUSD board can make the decision to reopen.

“It’s not a choice,” Craighead said. “It is not up to us. We are part of LA County. […] Please wear masks so we can bring the kids back. Can we all step up? Can we all take this seriously?”