With the continuation of the COVID pandemic and concerns of the delta variant on the rise in California, the State Assembly last month passed a bill requiring school districts to offer a remote independent study option for the 2021-2022 school year.
Few students attending local public schools are choosing the option, according to administrators, but the school districts are prepared to serve them.
AB 130 requires school districts to provide remote students with access to technology and the internet, among other things, and the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School is gearing up for that. Superintendent Nellie Meyer said her district will make laptops or Chromebooks available to all students opting for independent study.
“We also have provided access to Wi-Fi via hotspots as needed,” Meyer said via email. “Local advocacy has also assisted our students, as they have gained access through legislation for increased Wi-Fi access.”
The bill also states that student-teacher ratios must be consistent between online and in-person instruction.
Meyer said MVLA plans to continue with its past student-teacher ratio; however, due to students opting in to independent study, she expects lower overall numbers of students in classrooms. Currently, there are 40 students out of approximately 4,400 who have selected the remote learning option.
Unlike the 2020-2021 school year, MVLA will “no longer have the option of having teachers teach from the classroom via distance learning while simultaneously teaching in person,” according to Meyer.
MVLA will rely on the content provider Edgenuity to run its own independent study program.
“As a district, we recognized the importance of continuing the connection to the school sites and staff, so we provide mentor teachers and counseling support for students via our own MVLA staff,” Meyer said. “Students are also allowed to participate in extracurriculars and clubs to maintain a connection.”
In the Los Altos School District, only 20 students out of 3,500 have currently expressed interest in the remote option, according to Superintendent Jeff Baier.
With a low expected percentage of students selecting remote learning, Baier said he does not view the bill’s requirements as a potential challenge for LASD.
“Based on last year and the state law requiring distance learning, we already know that all of our students have access to tech and Wi-Fi,” he said. “We’ve already taken care of that, so ensuring these 20 some students have that access won’t be a problem.”
LASD is partnering with the organization Stride K12 to “provide a more robust, independent study” program due to the minimal student-teacher interactions independent study requires, according to Baier.
Much like MVLA, the synchronous online classroom model LASD used in the 2020-2021 school year also will no longer be offered to remote students.
The remote independent study model “really expects students to be working independently for a large portion of the time,” Baier said.
Rules included within AB 130 were established with the intent to improve on challenges students and families faced during the 2020-2021 school year.
Macy Li, an incoming junior at Homestead High School, said a major challenge for her initially was the adjustment to a new learning management system called Schoology.
“In previous years, we used something called School Loop, so adjusting to (Schoology) was also an initial challenge because the majority of the students at our school had never used it before,” Li said. “What our school did was they gave us a lot of videos and articles that consisted of tutorials that kind of walked us through how the website worked.”
During her experience of remote learning, Li said she has found ways to keep track of all her work, to engage in her classes through Zoom breakout rooms and to engage with teachers outside of the classroom.
Li also found a way to help keep herself and her friends engaged when working on homework after school despite having less interaction than they would in traditional in-person classes.
“One cool thing we did was hop on a Zoom call together to work on homework or projects at the same time just so we could have each other’s presence to motivate us and keep us supported throughout distance learning,” she said.
Participating in clubs also posed a challenge during remote learning for Li, an officer in the Political Science Union, Homestead’s first politics club.
This year, Li hopes to help make the club more inviting to students opting for the independent study program.
“We’re thinking of setting up a Zoom meeting that captures what’s going on in the club, so students who are choosing to do school remotely will be able to join the meeting and listen in on things,” Li said. “We’ll definitely try to find ways to integrate them into activities that we’re doing and include them into our events.”
While Meyer recognizes that independent study is not for everyone, she said some students have indicated that the ability to set their own schedule and learn at their own pace benefits them.
“We also have students who are not interested in returning to our campuses quite yet,” she added. “They may have personal or family health issues or need more time before they are prepared to return to our campuses. For these students, (remote independent study) has proven to be the best option.”