The SMUHSD “Remote Learning” Problems of Spring 2020 are NOT Indicative of the Future

6/22/2020 1:15 PM – The following important response on Nextdoor from a local teacher and parent was written to dispel parental concerns about what SMUHSD parents should expect from distance learning in the Fall.

It was written in response to misinformation in a petition entitled “100% Against 100% Distance Learning for SMUHSD Students in the Fall.”  The text below is quoted with permission of the author.  The full Nextdoor discussion is accessible at, but requires both a Nextdoor account to access and is also only geographically accessible from some neighborhoods in the SMUHSD.

I find it especially important to highlight this information because I have already seen private school advertising in my U.S. mail bragging about their superior preparedness after shelter-in-place was announced in mid-March.  This is yet another unfortunate consequence of a decision that was supposedly taken to mitigate the pressures on many students and teachers due to the pandemic.


The data and language in the Change.Org petition is inflammatory and drawn from anecdotal evidence that has been debunked.  Parents have been led to believe that the “issues” involved in Distance Learning offered was the fault of the teachers.  This is 100% untrue. 

The Board should mandate that the Administration disclose the truth about the prior Distance Learning experience (see position #2 below)  and the realities of what is being presented as the “on-site” experience.  

The teachers have been “thrown under the bus” by the Administration and have the Parents to believe that the teachers are at fault. This is 100% false.  (see position #2)

Contrary to the statement in the petition, the teachers have taken a position that 2/3rds of the members desire to return to a distance learning environment. This is not a “political power” position as stated in the petition.  The poll reflects 75% of the districts teachers and was taken prior to the parents leaking of the failed Quarter Plan.  As stated by a parent on the committee during the June 11 meeting, The Quarter Plan did not allow sufficient parent input or review, items essential to producing public policy. The teachers are now being blamed for the failures of the committee leadership.

The SMUHSD Re-Opening Task Force failed in its mission to effectively collect information from its stakeholders, take essential input from stakeholder groups and present a plan for Board approval.   

The Change.Org petition cultivates a position contrary to Dr. Morrow’s statements where he warns against following  “those who believe this pandemic is a hoax and no precautions should be put into place.”

This debate should never have made it to the social media platform.  There is a significant amount of false and misleading information that is being presented as fact rather than opinion.  This has led to a poorly crafted decision and dissension among the groups.

The following are responses to the petition.  This is not to pick a fight, but to move more of the facts into the discussion.

Petition Statement:

“It’s clear that District parents and students are comfortable with the risks of returning to school and the steps needed to mitigate these risks. In a recent survey taken by the SMUHSD 80% of parents and students want to return to campus in the Fall and 86.2% of those parents and students prefer a blended in-person and distance learning model versus a 100% distance learning model.”


1. The SMUHSD Board stated at it June 11, 2020 meeting that the survey and data were bias and individual Board members admonished the Administration for its “continued failures to produce data that can actually be used.”  This faulty data drove the production of the Administrations Quarter Plan, wasting weeks of valuable time only to be trashed one hour prior to its presentation.  

Petition Statement:

“The California Teachers Association, has adopted a political power position that it does not want to work in classrooms this Fall under any circumstances. It’s unclear short of a vaccine, which may never appear, when the CTA would be willing to teach our children in classrooms again.”


2. It was actually the Parents on the committee who revolted against the Administration Plan, not the teachers.  A group of parents on the committee leaked the plan to social media because THEY were opposed to its implementation.  The Teachers have not adopted a “political power position.”  The teachers (prior to the leak) presented the Administration with a bevy of scientific data outlining their concerns in the work environment for students and teachers.  The association also presented data representing 75% of the membership indicated a preference to return to school in a  distance learning environment. The CTA polled is members specifically on individual work place preference.  Delivering fact based data and bona fide results of the desires of the membership are hardly a “political power position.” The teachers have been open to implementing standards that provide a safe learning environment for both student and teachers.  The teacher have also stood for a transparent environment where the risks, costs, and challenges are properly disclosed to the public.    The real behind the scenes story was that  the independent work of a small group of teachers  from San Mateo High School who produced the current and viable plan for re-opening, upon hearing of the rejection of the Quarter Plan after it was leaked by the parents. 

Petition Statement:

“Everyone agrees that distance learning was a huge failure in our public high schools last Spring. Teachers were not required to do any “Zoom’ classes and it was 100% self study. Students at all levels and backgrounds were abandoned.  Most failed to learn.  If we begin the Fall Semester and the students again are forced to 100% distance learn, the damage to their education will most likely be irreversable.”(sic)


3. The “Distance Learning” during the Shelter in Place was the design and mandate of the District Administration, not the teachers.  Teachers were directed by the Administration to “prioritize the health of the students and staff as the primary mission.”  The Administrative mandate continued to halt assignments during the “Hold Harmless Period”  (some 3-5 weeks) and then a continued mandate on a reduction of assignments and grading.  (Why haven’t the parents been properly informed of these events?) The petition’s criticisms regarding Distance Learning are actually complaints about the mandates of the administration and not the teachers.  

The online learning that is being planned for the Fall (with proper training and professional development) will not resemble anything like the Shelter in Place experience.

Petition Statement:

“The “lifetime” of a high school student is four years. We could lose most or all of the next few classes of high school students by keeping them away from their teachers, peers and a positive learning environment.”


What is being proposed by the District for re-opening the schools does NOT included contact among students, teachers, and peers in a positive learning environment.  The health mandates alone along with the social distance protocols resembles more of a prison environment than a school.  Student engagement and movement will be severely limited and will not resemble anything a student may remember about the school experience.  The gathering of students into a confined space for a period of time on a daily basis is more aligned with retirement homes and the penal system than a school.  A focused question to the Administration would reveal these facts.

Petition Statement:

“Social emotional development is critical in these formative years. Without in-person interactions with teachers and classmates, these developmental milestones will be missed.”


Dr. Morrow has authorized a “Social Bubble” of 12 people or less.  Families may now form these cohorts at home for student interaction.  Even inside the school, student will not be able to freely interact with other students.  Teachers will be “locked” in a Teacher Zone and will not be able to interact with the students.

Students who participate in the return to school model will be trapped at school in PPE all day and will NOT be able to form a Social Bubble as they are engaged with students from school.  Students who participate in the online program will be free to engage with their Social Bubble peer anytime during or after school.

More of what Dr. Morrow stated in his letter.

A more complete read of Dr. Morrow’s June 15, 2020 Statement gives deeper insight into his intent, 

“ I want to see kids back in school.  I also feel that it is very important that kids be allowed to be kids.”  

He is not giving orders as much as he  is giving advice.  He is expressing his wishes and his statement adds cautions.  

He knows that the decisions to open the schools does not belong to him, but  to local school boards.  He does have the power to close the schools as needed.

The following  statmentsare drawn from the same June 15 letter offering insight into Dr. Morrow’s desire to see schools open.

Dr. Morrow June 15 statement:

 “Most folks are familiar with the effects of sneezing, especially if someone sneezes on you.  You feel this wetness on you.  The feeling of wetness is produced mainly by tens of thousands of expelled droplets.  I hope most folks have the basic understanding that avoiding having someone sneeze on you is a good idea.  Surprisingly, talking for one minute produces the same amount of droplets as one sneeze.  Think about that.  Being close to someone talking for one minute is like having them sneeze on you.  Shouting produces 10 times the amount of droplets as talking.  Shouting near others for 6 seconds is equivalent to sneezing on them.  This is the main reason why the extensive use of facial coverings is so important.”


Dr.  Morrow’s letter states that the transfers of the virus are from droplets. Individual in close proximity to one another talking, sneezing, blowing their nose, touching their face and then touching another person.  increases the transfer of the virus.  After working with teens for 30 years I can tell you that most teens lack a sense of personal space and proper hygiene practices (it goes with the territory).  Social Distancing practices in the classrooms, hallways, courtyards, cars, busses, bathrooms at passing period. 

We could not stop the kids from vaping during schools  in the bathrooms, at passing periods,  and in class this is going to be easy?

Dr. Morrow June 15 statement:

“(keeping schools closed), the most vulnerable among us are the most likely to be damaged by continuing to not offer a more typical school experience and they are also the most vulnerable to disease spreading out of control. These are the types of difficult issues that need to be balanced”


The most vulnerable students in our population will carry the most damage from school closures, but they are also the most vulnerable to contracting and spreading the disease. Therefore, the needs of THESE students are premier and should be elevated to a higher standard.  Students whose families enjoy income security and associated benefits do not need an in class space as they are far less likely to suffer from a lack of in class instruction or and are less likely to contract and spread the virus. Dr. Morrow’s examples (intent) differentiated between elementary and secondary education.  The appropriation of the needs of the most vulnerable and applying them to those more well off is not a sound application of Dr. Morrows analysis.

Dr. Morrow June 15 statement:

“But that level of risk tolerance should not drive the entire decision making process or the structure in which schools operate any more than parents who believe this pandemic is a hoax and no precautions should be put into place.”


“level of risk tolerance should not drive the entire decision making process or the structure in which schools operate.”   Dr. Morrow does not support returning to school without precautions.  The manner in which schools operate should balance on MORE than just risk tolerance.  

What is the quality of the delivery  (structure) of education mitigated by the risk factor? 

Does the in-school delivery of education model, when adjusted for risk, offer a better option than online education adjusted for risk?

Dr. Morrow June 15 statement:

 “Preferably they (the decisions) will be made with substantial input from the young people who are directly affected by them. There are many guidelines to review to assist in these decisions.”


If the students are presented with ALL of the facts and limitations of returning to school, what would they choose?  The 80% of student approval presented above did not include an explicit explanation of the daily limitations, nor did it include the number of respondents with data that could be disaggregated.  (We really don’t know what that 80% represents) The Teachers and Staff ARE the other people directly affected by the decision making process. In Dr. Morrow’s words, “These are the types of difficult issues that need to be balanced.”

Dr. Morrow June 15 statement:

 “Our case rate remains high and hospitalizations, until recently, were worsening, our Re is around 1.3, (Re is the number of people in a population who can be infected by an individual at any specific time) most models predict a second wave in August.”


Dr. Morrow’s model is predicting a second spike of the virus in August 2020, at the exact same time as the SMUHSD is scheduled to open.  More cases, more infections, more…. well you know. 

I’ve used the following in another post but it is appropriate here as well.

NASA and the Challenger Explosion

Bob Ebeling was the engineer who warned NASA that the Challenger was going to blow up because of weather conditions.  Despite agreement among the engineers, the politicians “overrode” the engineers and ordered the launch.

The Challenger blew up on launch and killed everyone on board.

What is Dr. Morrow telling us? 

Are we “A-OK” for Launch, or is he cautioning us about how to proceed?

Dr. Morrow expressed his wishes to return to school, but he also insisted on informing the public to use caution and evaluate the facts.

Please post your comments following this article below (or on Nextdoor at if you can access that post – note that the Nextdoor post is not accessible in all parts of the SMUHSD while this blog is).  You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the “Reply” link following a particular comment to respond to that comment.  This forum is moderated, so comments will not appear until approved.

The WordPress software that runs this site requires that you enter an email address in order to comment, but your address is not checked for validity nor displayed, and I do not collect or use this information.  Also, you will not receive emailed comments on the article from other people unless you check a box in the form to request this.

Thanks as always for your participation!

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

2 thoughts on “The SMUHSD “Remote Learning” Problems of Spring 2020 are NOT Indicative of the Future”

  1. Latinx families are very concerned about sending their kids back to school, as indicated by a number of local surveys, and discussions with community members. Many more local essential workers, and by default, Latinx families, have been devastated by COVID-19. I find it disingenuous that the backers of the petition would claim that ELD students need to be back in school as a reason to open schools back up for their own students, who are most likely not ELD and do have access to medical insurance and technology in the home. If the ELD students’ families are concerned about sending their kids to school to potentially become asymptomatic carriers of the disease and infect family members, will this group of petitioners agree to put the Latinx community’s needs first, and support a robust Distance Learning plan to begin the 2020-21 school year?

    As both a teacher of Latinx students and a parent, I know first hand that SMUHSD leaders did not support teachers in creating a full distance learning model for the last two and a half months of school. However, teachers can and will create effective synchronous distance learning lessons by working on-line. Placing the burden of “policing” the students’ mask wearing, distancing, and hygiene on teachers, added to our worry of spreading COVID-19 in the classroom, will greatly impact teachers’ ability to effectively teach and engage our students. A live synchronous Distance Learning program using on-line tools, small groups, science experiment packets mailed home, and other materials can never replace a real classroom experience with a passionate and qualified teacher. However, passionate and qualified teachers do not want to put their students and families in harm’s way. I hope that parents and families can look below the surface and realize that live synchronous Distance Learning, accompanied by opportunities for virtual clubs, tutoring sessions, and small group advisories for well-being checks, is the safest and most logical way to teach and learn next semester, particularly for our most vulnerable students.


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