As the Douglas County teacher's union raised alarms about the readiness of schools to launch online instruction for the new school year, the school district announced Friday it is delaying the start for some students enrolled in its “eLearning” program by one week, to Aug. 31.
Douglas County Federation President Kallie Leyba said Friday that some union members who are assigned to online teaching positions were reporting they did not yet know what classes they are instructing and did not have final student rosters.
As of Friday, other teachers had not received login information needed to begin using the online teaching platform purchased by the district for the 2020-21 school year, called Edgenuity. That meant teachers could not begin familiarizing themselves with the program or begin to build classes, the union said.
“I am just stunned at what's going on with the in-person learning and the eLearning,” Leyba said. “I can't even believe how ill-prepared our district is to go back to this eLearning, and unfortunately, it's not what they are telling parents and it's not what they are telling the board.”
At the time Leyba spoke to Colorado Community Media Friday afternoon, the district was still slated to fully launch its online learning program on Aug. 24. But the district announced later that it was delaying the start to online classes for high school students until Aug. 31.
In response to an interview request with Superintendent Thomas Tucker regarding concerns raised by the union, a spokeswoman provided a letter sent to high school families from Director of eLearning Diane Smith announcing the delay.
“Getting our eLearning platform up and running in a short period of time has been challenging, but even more so at the high school level,” Smith said in the letter.
The delay would give the district time to hire additional teachers for online learning and complete scheduling, Smith said.
The district is offering 100% online education as an alternative to its “hybrid” learning model. Under hybrid learning, students attend two days of class in-person and three online.
About 6,300 students have enrolled in the 100% online program for the first semester. Both hybrid and online students underwent orientation the week of Aug. 17.
Push back on COVID
The union is also pushing back against comments Tucker made during the Aug. 18 school board meeting regarding 100% in-person learning.
Tucker said if local COVID-19 data such as case positivity and incidence rates stay low after Labor Day, the district can examine transitioning to full in-person learning, beginning with elementary school students.
Leyba said the union wants the district to continue operating on a hybrid model for another four weeks so it can gather more data about how hybrid learning is affecting local virus trends.
That time would also allow students more practice at mastering social distancing procedures, she said.
Leyba also criticized online teachers' class sizes, saying some union teachers assigned to online learning report having between 40 and 50 students in a class. Online teachers are teaching six classes while in-person teachers are managing five, she said.
“We really want our district to put out some transparent communication to our parents about e-learning. Our parents are being told that electives will be offered but our teachers are being told that we are not offering electives,” Leyba said.
The union had asked its members to send a letter to Tucker and board directors with a number of requests before the high school delay was announced.
The letter, provided to Colorado Community Media, states online teachers have not been given enough time to learn the online platform and create the “'robust' education promised by our district.”
“The teachers who are conducting the e-learning this year are expected to have unreasonable number of students (some over 300!) and teach six of eight classes (and an additional advisement class) with no additional compensation,” the letter states.
The union requested additional pay for online teachers instructing more than five classes, that online class sizes not exceed in-person class sizes, and a delay to online learning.
Leyba initially said union teachers were willing to speak about their concerns with online learning, but later said the union was asking members not to give interviews because of a Douglas County School District policy requiring that media requests go through the district.
“I wasn't comfortable referring (Colorado Community Media) to a teacher because the district has asked teachers not to talk to the media,” she said.
Leyba said she was “thrilled to hear” high school online learning would be pushed back but hoped the district would also delay elementary and middle school online learning.
She questioned if the new plan should alter how classes were divided among teachers and what other ripple effects the delay for high school learning might have.
“This whole situation may be changing as we speak,” she said.
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