Reopening News from the SMUHSD Superintendent

6/22/2020 4:10 PM – Superintendent Kevin Skelly has released the following statement at

  • June 25 Board Meeting

    Spanish | Chinese

    Dear Families and Students:

    At their June 11 meeting, the Board of Trustees reviewed staff safety protocols and heard a report from the Return to School Committee. The Board directed staff to return with a plan for instruction in the fall. The presentation posted on our website includes a basic class schedule (with at least three hours of synchronous learning per class per week). On Thursday, June 25 the Board will review the proposal, give further direction and consider approval of a plan for how the District will deliver instruction in the Fall.

    I’m sharing some frequently asked questions which help illustrate the proposal for parents and students more thoroughly.

    Those wishing to share their thoughts with the Board may do so by sending an email to  Please copy me at if you’d like. Those wishing to make a public comment on the topic may email with your name, email address, and your zoom name (if different) and the item under which you would like to comment.

    Zoom Meeting login information is available on our website.

    I realize that there are concerns and some anxiety about school opening and the process we are following to come up with a plan. It is a messy time, but we are making progress and I’m increasingly confident that, despite the challenges, we can do right by our students and families this fall. Thanks for your interest and support.


    Kevin Skelly, Ph.D.

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!

A Way Out of the School Reopening Morass??

UPDATE on 6/19/2020 at 11:15 AM: Here is the slide deck preview for the next Board Meeting: Fall 2020 Learning Plan – Public Version

It was accompanied by the following note:

Attached is a preview of the schedule that will be on the board agenda for next week. The schedule was a collaboration between the teachers’ union, district administration, and site administration. All groups took into account the feedback from our committee, previous surveys, and schedules presented at the last board meeting. In addition, we took into account school board comments and recommendations.  The presentation will have far more detail, but this gives you a glimpse of the suggested schedule for the school board’s consideration. I believe the board agenda will be posted this evening or Monday.

UPDATE on 6/15/2020: An Addendum has been appended to this post which was made the morning before the Board meeting.  The Addendum briefly describes the outcome of the Board meeting and provides links to a recording of the meeting as well as the slide deck presented to the attendees.

6/11/2020 – This last week has been overwhelming in terms of the number of proposals, counter-proposals, and extensive discussions about how to reopen schools in the fall.  Please see SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System? and, for those with local Nextdoor access, for the gory details.

I would like to make a short, relatively uncomplicated proposal and then will step aside.  I do not have children attending school, and my personal work is done completely via Skype since the pandemic, so I will not consume valuable comment time during the Board meeting tonight.

This idea will not need 66 slides!  In fact it will not need any slides at all – just the very short text section that follows!

At the end of last school year, most AP teachers were holding classes via Zoom.  Many non-AP classes were held much less regularly though, due to the rapid school closure and some teachers suddenly having outside care responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the fall, school will resume full time.  I believe, but am not certain, that part of the rationale for the quarter system was to complete certain classes by the end of the first quarter in case there was a “second wave” of COVID-19 in the late October/November time frame.  This might allow a “cleaner” shutdown of school if necessary.

Pardon me, but I still don’t understand, after listening to all of the back and forth, why school can’t resume using the normal pre-pandemic seven period semester schedule with 1/3rd of students in class each day and the other two thirds participating in the exact same lesson via Zoom (or some other more secure platform) from home.  Or we could have only one fifth of students come in on a particular day of the week if the desire is to further minimize group size.

If a “second wave” develops, then we simply go back to 100% of students using Zoom or Zoom alternative from home until it passes, but we do not stop school.

The 1/3rd rotation could have the same group coming in every 3rd day as in the current district slide deck, or, more preferable in terms of reducing teacher exposure, every third week as several of my Aragon students told me was the proposal originally mentioned to them.

A week at school followed by two weeks off would also be an effective “quarantine” to minimize COVID-19 spread in the event that any student was infected.  The week at school allows students to ask teachers questions in person and also gives them at least some “socially distant” contact with their peers.

The rotation schedule on a normal semester plan seems to me to be the most important topic for discussion, NOT the quarter system idea which appears to be a non-starter for very many people (parents AND teachers)!

The other alternative, of course, is 100% online learning that the teachers currently favor due to their health concerns.

Why do we need to develop all of these other complicated proposals with so many downsides and probably other as yet unforeseen consequences???  The Board meeting tonight could be the longest one in SMUHSD history or we could cut through all of this clutter in advance.

If I am missing something, please let me know in the Comment section below or on Nextdoor where I will also be posting a link to this article.  Thank you!



Addendum posted AFTER the Board Meeting:

A recording of the 5 hour long Board meeting is available at

The quarter system proposal was dropped from the agenda a few hours prior to the meeting and replaced with two other possible models (“Fully Blended” and “80/20 Blended”) developed with substantial teacher input.  The Fully Blended model is discussed by Assistant Superintendent Kirk Black starting at 1 hour 36 minutes (1:36) into the Youtube video above, and the 80/20 Blended model is presented by teacher Jinna Hwang at 1:43 into the video.

Here is a copy of the revised Return to School slide presentation given at the meeting that includes these two new models: L_1_RevisedReturnToSchoolPresentation_0

The decision was made to flesh these plans out further and bring them back to the next Board meeting on 6/25.

What do people think about these proposals?

I remain concerned by the reduction in class time and the use of “asynchronous learning.”  As I said on Nextdoor:

… sorry, but the idea of a student watching a lecture at home without the ability to ask an immediate question of the lecturer just rubs me the wrong way. One can call it by the fancy term “asynchronous learning” but I would prefer a simpler term – “bad teaching!”

This denigration of lecturing in current education philosophy has gone to an extreme. No one enjoys simply being talked AT, of course, but then why assign Khan Academy and prerecorded lectures where there is no possibility of interaction? There always seems to be a curious parallel reduction in teaching effort along with many of these “progressive education” methods like, for example, CPM math.

In fact I wrote an article about this problem earlier: Why a “Sage on the Stage” in a Classroom is not always a Bad Thing .

This asynchronous learning problem can be fixed if the teacher is accessible with a reasonable turn-around time via some kind of instant messaging system such as the one in Canvas mentioned by Kevin in the comments below or via other forms of IMs or cellular texts.

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!

SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System?

Updates in reverse chronological order are at the top of this post.  Please scroll down to read the original post first if you have not already done so.

UPDATE on 6/10/2020 2:05 PM – Two articles on the school reopening controversy have appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal.  These articles are copyrighted, so you need an account to access them.  You can see one free story per month without an account or three per month with a free account.  Otherwise if you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you’ll have to pick up a free hardcopy at a newsstand or store.

UPDATE on 6/15/2020 at 10:20 PM after ones on 6/9/2020 at 5:20 PM and again on 6/10/2020  at 2:35 PM

(6/15) Mr. Binetti has revamped his website once again and has restored the deleted videos mentioned immediately below.

(6/10) I wrote the two paragraphs below yesterday evening.  Mr.Binetti overnight removed his previous four videos and his list of research references and on 6/10/2020 only has a single video designed to get people to sign his letter.  This change looks extremely bad in my opinion as he did this switcheroo AFTER receiving evidence countering his position.  This is intellectually dishonest and appears as simply an attempt to promote his petition drive!!

(6/9) In another thread on Nextdoor at, a series of videos on a site called has been discussed. They are made by a San Carlos resident.

In his first three videos, he tries to make a compelling case using research studies that COVID-19 will not spread in schools, but then has to backpedal in his fourth video when viewers presented him with two cases in which spread did happen. He concludes that we don’t yet know why it happened in those two cases, but the scores of other studies still say that school transmission is not likely. I am just passing this on in the interest of looking at all sides of the issue. He also is running a petition drive to reopen schools normally. If interested, I would encourage you to watch all four videos first before you make a decision to sign.

UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 10:30 AM – There is an online petition for those opposed to the quarter system available at

UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 5:00 AM – The following note, posted late last night by Anne Pesquie, is from the Nextdoor discussion on this topic available at for those who have Nextdoor access in the mid-SF Peninsula area.  I am trying to post the most important excerpts from that very lengthy and deeply nested conversation here.

Update 06/08.
All teachers from the district received (finally) an email from the superintendent communicating about the possible new blended/quarter schedule.

One hour later, they also received an email from a group of teachers (from multiple high schools) stating that even after talking with Dr Skelly for two hours, regarding an alternating schedule for the fall semester that would avoid blended/quarter system, it seems that his decision is already made to fully support the blended/quarter system.

On the email, this group of teachers shared their plan, “a 80/20 remote/blended model with room for on-campus support”, which is not “perfected or complete” and “does not necessarily mean 100% of our faculty is behind it”. (link below)

Teachers, parents, students who disagree with the district’s plan at least can sign a petition “What is the Best Instructional Model Amidst the Pandemic?”



They concluded by “Other parent and teacher groups have been working hard on their own proposals for alternatives. This is not to go against any of that work, but hopefully to combine our conversations and work together to find a better solution.”

personal side note: This is not a leak, I asked permission to put it online.

I should note that the Superintendent is in the position of having to navigate through all of the conflicting interests on this issue.  The final decision will be made by the Board.  In the recent Credit/No Credit decision, the Board, by a narrow margin, sided with the teachers’ position.

Once again the teachers and a significant number of parents are at odds.  The factor that will finally tip this issue will be health threats to the teaching staff in my opinion, but I will not be speaking at the meeting, just observing.

Anne also posted this eye-opening story about what happened in Israel after school reopened.

Parents should remember that “essential workers” are still supposed to be protected from health threats!  Teachers did not sign up to deal with potentially life-threatening work on a daily basis.  Even doctors and nurses work (or are supposed to work!) with protective equipment, and they can attempt to isolate ill patients and limit their movement.  Teachers have no comparable control in a school setting when it comes to possible asymptomatic spreaders!  Incoming temperature checks are their only defense and will they all be issued N95 masks??!

The Board may very well decide in favor of a 100% online learning model to begin the year, but try to stick with a reasonably normal school day and semester schedule.  This will make the teachers happy, and the parents may go away at least relieved that they didn’t get the quarter system!!  That would be a very clever use of a straw man argument, wouldn’t it?!??


UPDATE on 6/8/2020 at 4:00 PM – A PDF of the full Return to School Committee Presentation can be downloaded by clicking on this link and has been inserted into the Board Meeting Agenda in the Attachments section just before agenda item L.2.  It is a massive slide deck (66 slides – 52 in the main part plus an Appendix of 14!!), and I am concerned that this could turn into the longest Board meeting in SMUHSD history…

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 9:00 PM – An open letter from members of the Return to School scheduling subcommittee opposing the Quarter system has been added to the Comments section below.

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 3:05 PM – The Board meeting agenda and attendance information has been published at  The Agenda item appears to be L. 1. but the presentations will not be attached until Monday, so it is difficult to know what the Board will actually see at this time.  There will also be significant business conducted before this agenda item.

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 7:45 AM – A letter from Craig Childress, the president of the SMUHSD Teachers Association to the Superintendent and the Board has been posted in the Comments section following the article.  Teachers are advocating for 100% Distance  Learning in the Fall.  An additional slide deck on the issue is also included below.

UPDATE on 6/5/2020 at 8:00 AM – A PDF version of the slide deck (without the excessive animations in the original) has been received and added to this article below.

Original Post on 6/4/2020 – A report on Nextdoor yesterday evening indicated that an “internal Return to School subcommittee for scheduling” … “is planning on moving to a quarter system (9 weeks of 3 classes with finals) and dispensing with the semester system in ALL HIGH SCHOOLS in the district as a way to reduce teacher exposure to Covid in the classroom.”

The Nextdoor post can be found here, but Nextdoor access depends upon your neighborhood location, and people outside of the distribution area and those without Nextdoor accounts will not be able to view it.

I have checked with several parents who I know, and they have not received any notifications as of this AM.

Comments on Nextdoor state that the change to a quarter system

“is most likely to be presented as the “best option” at the Board of Trustees meeting next week on June 11 after being discussed minimally in subcommittee. Anyone interested should attend the meeting virtually (Zoom info will be available here): to find out more and write to Dr. Skelly and board members (emails here: in order to understand and share opinions.”

I should add that the Board is very likely stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue as often happens.  I do not know what kind of feedback that they are getting from teachers about their concerns regarding contracting COVID-19 when school resumes.  I wrote about this critical safety issue near the end of my article Will “Online Learning” Work?  Please keep this important issue in mind when expressing your opinions if you attend this meeting.

The community needs to work out a solution that balances all needs to the best of its ability.  No one will walk away completely happy.

Students have also told me that an option of having every student attend school one week out of three has also been discussed (1/3 of students at school each week followed by two weeks of online learning).  I am not sure why this rotation was chosen versus having one third come in every third day (too confusing for the kids?? Do they want each cohort to stay out for two weeks to see if they subsequently come down with COVID-19??  Other reasons??)  Hallways will supposedly also have one-way markings to reduce problems between classes.

Given the equity issues that I also discussed in Will “Online Learning” Work?, it might make sense to have students without Internet access attend school full time or else these students will quickly fall irretrievably behind.

Alternatively, there have been some GoFundMe campaigns for homeless people and families on Nextdoor.  In light of the current racial strife in our country, perhaps our community should seriously consider a fundraising drive for SMUHSD, SMFCSD, or whatever your local district is, and provide technology to ALL of our students.  It would be preferable for a fund to be set up directly in each district for this purpose instead of giving cuts of valuable education dollars to “middle men.”

This might be the single best action that we could take to improve race relations in our community.  After all, education “is the only valid passport from poverty.

Here is a PDF of the slide deck for the Return to School subcommittee meeting scheduled for 9:00 AM on 6/5/2020:

Quarter System Schedule Options

After the meeting mentioned above I received the following slide deck with sample schedule information.  This appears to supplement the material above:

Sample Schedules Quarter Schedule

The Statement on the fifth slide of this second deck from Amy Johnstone, the Burlingame HS PTO President, describes several reasons for students to return to school and ends with “And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.”   It is both interesting and concerning:

The Spirit of Our Work
“It feels like there is an assumption that DL is the safer choice. But when campus closed, many of our most vulnerable students and families went dark – we had no eyes on them and minimal communications. DL addresses curriculum and academics but our schools are so much more than that – they are places of nutrition, mental health, mentoring and mandated reporting. Sometimes our campuses are the safest place for our students. We can control the school environment, based on science and best practices, and adapt as needed. Not every home environment is providing that level of stability, safety and responsiveness. I do believe that for some of our students, every minute they spend on campus is safer and better for them. And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.”
– Amy Johnstone, BHS Parent, PTO President

As I stated on Nextdoor the opposing sides need to proceed cautiously if we are to resolve this issue:

I noted, in a different school reopening discussion on Nextdoor, some statistics from the San Mateo-Foster City School District indicating that 1 out of six teachers were in the 50 years old and above category, a higher risk group for severe COVID-19. I do not know the numbers for the SMUHSD teachers, but would not be surprised if it is similar.

Parents have a legitimate concern to get the best education possible for their children (and this is unlikely to happen via 100% distance learning), but many parents also want to be able to go back to work themselves and not have to watch their kids.

Teachers nearing retirement may be very hesitant to expose themselves to possibly serious disease.

It is very hard to see how these differing interests can be reconciled without significant compromise. If teachers are pressed too hard, the District might lose some valuable experienced staff who decide it is safer to just retire despite taking a possibly lower retirement income. Everyone loses in this scenario.

On the other hand if teachers press for distance learning and don’t follow through, there will also be a lot of upset. Parents report elsewhere on Nextdoor that the actual online effort between teachers in various schools (and even between teachers at the same school) is unfortunately wildly variable. Explanations given, like some teachers having to also take care of their own kids, are not heard sympathetically by, e.g., nurses who are risking their lives daily but also have kids who need watching.

Reconciling these issues is going to require a serious, yet calm and rational discussion that unfortunately seems to be less common lately. I hope the community does itself proud in this regards. I would not be surprised if part of the reason for the limited distribution of the plans so far is precisely a fear of such contentious debate.

Please scroll down to the Comments section to see a letter from the SMUHSD Teachers Association President to the SMUHSD Superintendent and Board of Trustees.  Other material will also be included below as it arrives.

AP Exam takers lost network connectivity in some cases !!!

I had three of my tutoring students take the Calculus BC exam yesterday. All of them felt well-prepared, but ONE out of THREE lost their network connection which made it impossible to finish.

(UPDATE: Instead of the reasons given in the Chronicle article below, the problem might be due to system overload near the end of the exam – uploading of results near the end of the test bogged down and the exam timer closed the test before the uploads could complete.  This is an unproven but plausible hypothesis given that the College Board may not have had enough students to load test the system before the real exam was given. More in the Comments section following this article.)

Apparently they were not alone according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  I found this article this afternoon while reading Diane Ravitch’s blog.

The College Board claims that this happened to only 1% of test takers.


From the Chronicle article:

“A Twitter post on Wednesday from the company’s official account said, “While more than 99% of students successfully submitted their AP exam responses today, some who didn’t told us they had trouble cutting and pasting their responses. We took a closer look and found that outdated browsers were a primary cause of these challenges.”

It advised that people who had issues submitting their exams update their browsers to the latest version of either Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Microsoft Edge.

The College Board also posted a link to a new troubleshooting page.

An earlier Tweet from the organization suggested that the problem had to do with the interface not accepting the default format of iPhone photos and that images would have to be converted to the widely-used digital format known as a jpeg.

The messaging did not sit well with the Twitter account’s followers who, in the replies thread, accused the College Board of “blaming the students” and said, “This is disappointing.”

The technical problems affected students across the country.”

My opinion on the AP system is well known…

Will “Online Learning” Work?

The COVID-19 pandemic required the abrupt closure of schools and an almost overnight shift to attempts at online education.

Implementation has been very uneven, and, combined with cries about “equity problems,” led to the cancellation of grades for spring semester 2020 locally and at many places across the nation.

How can we make school work going forward? This *in-depth* article examines the many behind the scenes challenges of which parents may not be aware and discusses possible ways forward.

Continue reading “Will “Online Learning” Work?”

Parents Protest Against Credit/No Credit Grading in SMUHSD

The following is from the April 9th San Mateo Daily Journal:

The proposal to temporarily postpone issuing letter grades in the San Mateo Union High School District alarmed some school community members who opposed adopting a credit system for the semester disrupted by COVID-19.

The district Board of Trustees initially scheduled a meeting to discuss the credit proposal Tuesday, April 7, but pushed the session back until Thursday, April 16, to further examine the issue.

Concerned parent Andrew Soss shared fears that students earning good grades would see their semester’s hard work wiped away with a broad stroke from officials adopting the credit system.

The full text of the article can be found here.

The SMUHSD Board will hold a public meeting on this topic via Zoom Thursday evening at 5 PM as detailed here.

I strongly encourage parents who have an opinion on this topic to email the Board of Trustees at  before the meeting!!

Postscript – The article above shows just one example of the value that our local newspaper provides to the community.  I signed up for an online subscription for $99 per year to support their work, and I encourage all of you to do likewise.  I have no connection with or financial interest in the newspaper.

Nancy Bailey: There Can Be No “Science of Reading” When Libraries and Librarians Are Disappearing

An important article on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Nancy Bailey: There Can Be No “Science of Reading” When Libraries and Librarians Are Disappearing

SF Chronicle: Chaos at SF’s Aptos Middle School

School disciplinary problems reflect bigger issues in our society. I believe there is a connection between them and the increase in car burglaries and other thefts/break-ins in our community.

Problems locally may also be impacting the regular stream classes, especially in math.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a podcast entitled “Fifth & Mission.”  On Feb. 15th, 2020 the topic was “Chaos upends San Francisco’s Aptos Middle School.”  The podcast is a discussion of Heather Knight’s column of the same date entitled “‘Lord of the Flies’: Fights, bullying, chaos upend San Francisco middle school.

Aptos Middle School is near the well-to-do St. Francis Wood and Monterey Heights neighborhoods several blocks east of Stonetown Galleria, but has students bussed in from other parts of the City including the poorer Bayview and Portrero Hill neighborhoods.  Somewhere between only 5-20 students between the ages of 11-14 years old at the school

managed to wrest control of the school from the adults.

And everybody agrees these kids, just 11 to 14 years old, need far more support to cope with the horrifying trauma they’ve experienced in their short lives and get them engaged in school. Where families and teachers disagree with administrators, however, is whether the school district — which is big on talk about social justice — is actually providing that support.

The district says it is. But the mayhem — physical fights, bullying, chaotic hallways and vile language — shows that’s clearly not the case.

In fact, for the 1,000 students at Aptos, there’s just one social worker. And the only real concession the district has made after complaints about safety has been allowing Principal Nicole Trickett to use money tagged for new technology to hire a temporary security guard for more protection in the hallways.

Why should this concern us here in the suburbs??

In the course of my tutoring work, I talk to students every day about their classes.  While we may not have problems locally that are quite this severe, this is not isolated to Aptos Middle School.  I taught for a year at one of the better high schools in San Francisco where a female teacher was beaten up by two female students who were subsequently suspended.  I constantly saw kids roaming the halls when they should be in class and at times deciding to barge in to other classrooms to talk to their friends in the middle of lessons.

The disrespect shown to teachers and the constant barrage of foul language in the halls between periods was shocking enough to me at the time, and I would not be surprised if it has become worse since then.

I generally work with more serious SMUHSD students in precalculus, calculus, physics and chemistry, but have some students in the regular math stream.  I often hear that about half the regular math classes are filled with students who come in to high school with very weak math backgrounds, have basically given up on the subject, and cause disruptions in class.  This clearly impacts the learning of the better students in the class.  I have no quantitative data on how frequently this happens, but I suggest that parents reading this article talk to their own kids and try to get a sense of the occurrences from them.

In the past I have written many times with a degree of disapproval about the frantic rush to accelerate kids in math, and said that the regular stream should be considered.  However, I have also argued for an honors stream that presented the material at a level in between the regular and AP classes.  There seems to me to be a significant number of students who would benefit from this intermediate stream which would save them the stress and expense of the AP exams.  Possibly due to lack of resources this has never gone anywhere despite a similar attempt by Aragon parents several years ago to request an honors stream from the administration.

When I first started tutoring eight years ago, I had several regular stream students and was fairly satisfied with the regular math classes at that time.  However, as my reputation grew, I increasingly focussed on the higher level math classes.  Since I have worked with some families for as long as 6-7 years, I have accepted some siblings in regular stream math classes in the last few years and am now concerned about the pace of the regular curriculum.  These students are competent in math but are bored in the regular math classes.  Textbooks have been abandoned in favor of worksheets, and the level of difficulty seems to have decreased.  One Algebra 1 class this school year spent the first 10 to 11 weeks on simplifying algebraic expressions and the slope-intercept, point-slope and standard formats for the equation of a line.  Most work was completed in class and a weekly homework worksheet took the student only about 20 minutes to finish.

Possibly because teachers have to deal with such a wide variety of math skills (and this problem may have been exacerbated by aborted curriculum experiments such as Everyday Math in the local K-8 district), this slowdown may have been necessary.

However, combining a slower curriculum with kids that are bored with or given up on math is a recipe for problems.

Public school teachers are in a tough position with disruptive kids.  Serra High School, a local Catholic school, had a staffed after-school detention center for discipline problems which gave Serra teachers an acceptable disciplinary option.

Many public high schools require the teacher who assigns detention to stay after school to monitor the student themselves!  This clearly does not encourage teachers to use detention as a disciplinary tool.  Instead, for example, when I taught in SFUSD, the helpful classroom management advice that I was given by a vice principal was simply, “Don’t let them see you smile until after Christmas!”, i.e., the teacher is expected to control the classroom by giving stern looks and emulating a prison guard persona!  Whatever happened to parental responsibility for teaching their kids proper behavior?  When I tried to call home to talk to parents, I frequently found that the parents were not available because they were working two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet and older children were taking care of younger kids!

Stern looks will clearly not work with disruptive kids from traumatized family backgrounds, some of whom have no hesitation to yell, “FU, I don’t have to listen to you!” and storm out of a classroom.  A relative of mine worked as a school security officer in southern California and has told me stories of veteran teachers coming to him in tears telling him that they can no longer control these kids.

Various ACLU lawsuits have enhanced student “rights” over the years, to the detriment of teachers in my opinion, and I have also heard of cases where teachers have been threatened with lawsuits by parents to halt disciplinary measures against their children.

Public schools also have to accept and teach all students, and, instead of the “old school” method of streaming kids into advanced, regular, and remedial classes, the tendency now is to “mainstream” the slower students and have them work in groups with some of the better students, in the hope that they will learn from their peers as well as from teachers / “authority figures.”  While this may work to some extent, it has also led to interesting incidents like a student being criticized by their group for being out sick, thereby resulting in a lower grade for others in the group!!

Our society can no longer afford to ignore the trauma in the poorer segments of society if for no other reason than the cynical one that it negatively impacts the rest of us.  Drug addiction, homelessness, joblessness, single-mother families –  the list goes on.

If children emerge from school without a decent education, their odds of becoming productive members of society are clearly lowered significantly.  Even worse, if they leave school with the idea that they can engage in antisocial behavior with impunity, do not be surprised if you can’t leave your cars at night with anything visible inside of them or that people brazenly snatch iPhones and iPads in broad daylight from Apple Stores.

San Francisco is not that far from San Mateo…

For some thoughtful perspectives and possible solutions for these problems I recommend the following:

Hope and despair in the American city – Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant

and chapter 6 entitled “The Only Valid Passport from Poverty” in the book

The Teacher Wars – A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein.

I only hope that we have not let this situation fester until it is too late to act.


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