The Message the FL Dept. of Education is Sending Right Now

It’s the end of week one of “distance learning” which I, along with many other families have learned, appears to be full-time public school at home.

A friend of mine alerted me to this article in the Orlando Sentinel where Florida’s current Department of Education commissioner praised Florida schools for their “quick move to online learning.”

One thing I’d like to point out which maybe my open letter failed to clearly convey, and that is that I think our teachers and our schools are AMAZING. Teachers had two weeks max to get curriculum online, learn new platforms, systems and basically figure it out as best as possible. In going this direction, the Florida Department of Education has in one motion devalued our teachers, sending the message that anyone can teach, all you need to do is put the curriculum online and surely everyone can figure out a brand new profession at home, for grades, while working from home (or searching for a new job from home) full time.

The open letter has garnered a lot of attention, and within 24 hours of hitting publish was featured on Fox35 Orlando.

Parents resonate. And that’s because what we are being asked to do is impossible. If you need permission to push back, let me tell you that it’s OK to push back. This is too much on parents, students, teachers, administrators, everyone.

I could truly kiss the teachers who have been bold enough to comment on my open letter or who have messaged me privately.

One “hero teacher” commented: “As teacher, I completely agree with you! But please also know that I am being lectured to about the “optics” of closing schools. We are told that the communities will not tolerate paying teachers to do nothing. So, to justify my pay and my value, I am assigning work…and it breaks my heart. What these kids need right now is not online assignments. Unfortunately, in education, no one listens to teachers.”

The teachers are stuck. They are stuck between an employer who is devaluing them, pleasing the parents, and doing their best to provide education.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) took years developing their own online curriculum, accrediting it, testing it, training teachers for online learning, then making those teachers shadow veteran online instructors before putting them to work. Combine that with the fact that the teachers, nor the parents of Florida Public Schools have signed up for online learning.

The public school curriculum in its current form has been pushed to the Internet and that’s what has been delivered. That point can not be argued.

In speaking with a FLVS teacher, she stated: “We have curriculum specialists whose only job is developing the curriculum for the courses. It’s built specific to the virtual learner. Our state schools have had no opportunity to do that.”

I’ve spoken to families in Duval County, Brevard County, Orange County, Seminole County and Palm Beach County and almost everyone, with the exception of a few families and several trained teachers who are teaching their own children at home, are completely overwhelmed.

One family I spoke with is having to print and upload documents for their school aged children, luckily they have those capabilities at home, not all do. Other families I spoke to have a range of assignments. I’ve heard from families with children in elementary school close in age to my child with two assignments per day, others have nine assignments per day. Some middle schoolers have close to six hours of assignments and are working until 8 p.m. at night and still aren’t finished. Another child (seven years old) is in tears every day with the pressure she feels. If education is supposed to provide a saving grace of normalcy for our kids it is missing the mark. One mom told me, “If this is going to work, we all need to be on the same page.”

Let’s put the cards on the table, the “optics” aren’t working. It’s clear there is not a leadership and direction from the top. Administrators and teachers have been thrust into this environment without guidance. Parents know that. We can see that.

FLVS has made 100 online courses available to public school. But according to the Orlando Sentinel article linked above: “Local school districts at this point are using their own curriculum and content, rather than FLVS, however, as they now educate their students largely via laptops. So far, the virtual school said three charter schools have asked to use its courses.” Again, having a laptop and doing true virtual learning are two completely different things.

What are the solutions? There are several.

  1. A real solution if this goes on long term could be to actually use FLVS online curriculum as it is based for virtual learning. And teachers can use this time right now to be trained for that, if they choose.
  2. No new material. A friend in Colorado has three school aged boys and the memo they are getting from their school district is no new material will be taught, only enrichment and reinforcement of material already covered. Their county’s message is enjoy time together, reconnect, don’t stress and are empowering teachers to focus on their student’s mental health.
  3. I like this guy’s article. Give them all A’s. Dr. Manuel Rustin is a high school teacher and he makes a whole lot of valid arguments, ending by stating: “As a nation we’ve offered trillions to Wall St. and $1,200 checks to individuals to help deal with this crisis. Are students not facing a crisis, too? Give them their checks. And by checks, I mean A’s.” You have to read the whole article, it’s really good.
  4. Isn’t calling this time summer and starting school early an option? I agree that kids shouldn’t go five months without education, but can we start school in July instead of August? Can we have one week off at Christmas instead of two? (Remember when school was 11 months long that one time? And when we couldn’t find toilet paper, but the Department of Education still wanted us to do school?)
  5. Mauren Downey with The Atlanta Journal Constitution makes a great argument in her article linked above and states, “This is not business as usual and it’s unethical to act as if it could be.”

And that is why I (and many others) are so rightfully up in arms about what is being expected of everyone. Again, I am imploring the Florida Department of Education to do the right thing. Show you value your teachers, show you value your administrators, show you value your students, and show you value parents, along with everyone’s mental health and please stop this madness. Pay the teachers, give everyone a break and instead of winging it, create an actual plan or strategy.

We do not have to do what we’ve always done in education for the last 100 years given what’s going on globally. Real parents are experiencing real problems that rub up against this societal expectation – is anyone thinking about what’s truly appropriate or possible for families? Can we realize that EVERYONE will be starting back at a deficit? Can teachers work within that in a new school year?

In speaking with Tracy Weiss, a life coach and licensed mental health counselor, the conversations in her field surrounding the schooling issue are completely different. “It’s funny because I was just having conversations with people in my field about how taking school off the table is the blessing today’s kids need. They’re so anxious and detached because they’re so busy and expectations are so high. They don’t know how to just “be”, play, explore, self-soothe, problem solve and connect.”

These arguments are valid. What has been forced on to families is full-time public school, at home, during a pandemic. This has been made mandatory, for letter grades, for pass/fail grades and it is not OK. This is not OK.

I’ve really put myself out there with my posts and appearing on the news. As my one good friend who’s an elementary school teacher said, “You’re making friends at every turn, huh?” Probably not. But if you know our family’s story, you know all of the hardships we have endured, that I have always fought for my child, for equal access, for what is true and right. And so I find myself fighting again. God really gave me this personality that physically compels me to do things to impact change and to make people think and to make them notice, and they have noticed.

Thankfully my child’s school and district have noticed, and a more manageable, individualized learning plan is being worked on to best support my child and our family with learning goals that are realistic during this global crisis. But, I know so many others that are continuing to struggle, and that’s why I’m still writing. I am writing to be a voice for those who feel they don’t have a voice or feel their voice doesn’t matter or aren’t sure how to best advocate in this situation because their life has been completely altered in every single way. I’m writing for those who have a fear of being shamed because they are afraid to admit this is too much. I’m writing for those who feel the weight of having another area of their life fall apart and don’t know what to do.

Without being vocal you may not learn what is actually required for your child and your unique situation…and I know that’s the source of frustration for a lot of parents.

So, I’m here to help empower you.

Parents: If you want to try and make a change, this letter has been working for several people who have sent it.

Dear [your county superintendent/principal/teacher or whoever you feel would help address your individual situation best],

I am in agreement with this open letter to the department of education [link here].
My personal challenges are: 
1. 
2. 
3. 

I implore you to please reconsider what is required from students, teachers and parents at this time. Keep in mind the enormous mental toll that everyone is already encountering and add to it that assignments are due and grades, tests and quizzes are required. The expectations upon students hasn’t changed but their environment, their educator and the platform has.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Link to every superintendent in Florida by county with email addresses.

STATE CONTACTS:
FL Dept. of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran
Email: Commissioner@fldoe.org

Governor Ron Desantis
Email: GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com

An Open Letter to the Florida Department of Education

Today was our first day of virtual/distance learning. I cried for 30 minutes, all before 10 a.m. I thought there would be “instruction” from our child’s teacher, but I’m learning, that may not be the case.

New concepts will be taught in short video clips from the Internet or other teaching sources, and the bulk of instruction will be coming from parents. You know, in our free time.

Those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs and work remotely, are now supposed to navigate shouldering an abbreviated school day of six hours with our child, while working, while trying to keep our family safe, in a pandemic.

I can’t help but think of parents who are fighting on the front lines, working 12 hours a day to keep the rest of us safe. I’m thinking about the families who have a family member battling cancer or another hard health diagnosis. I’m thinking about the children whose family environments are less safe than the school environment. What about families with multiple children? What about families with children who have special needs, IEPs, 504s and learning disabilities?

After 10 minutes of a google class meet up so my daughter could see all her little friends, I looked at the amount of school work in our virtual classroom and broke down in tears. How are we supposed to do distance learning with a child who has special needs, a paraprofessional, three therapists at school, and every accommodation available in a school setting on her IEP? No matter each family’s unique situation, families are not set up to add another two full time jobs to our responsibilities.

I know that our county school district is just doing what they are required to do from the Florida Department of Education, which I’m sure is getting their recommendations from the Education Department for our country. Did anyone think that maybe a parent’s goals are a lot different than a school’s goals for their child when navigating a GLOBAL pandemic?

My goals are to stay home and healthy. My child, who like many in our world has a compromised immune system, she cannot get sick during this outbreak. We cannot find ourselves in a hospital trying to receive help through an illness. Not to mention that if she were to be exposed to the coronavirus and get sick, it’s possible she might be deemed “not worth saving” since she has disabilities.

This is all too much. It’s too much for everyone. Please don’t add teaching our kids to a laundry list of new requirements every single family now has. It causes undue stress on parents, children and life. We have enough stress that’s been added to our life.

Can the Department of Education realize that:

  1. I didn’t go to school to teach.
  2. My child’s teacher didn’t go to school to run a virtual classroom or learn what’s appropriate for online instruction during a pandemic.
  3. The learning environment is no longer cohesive or structured.
  4. Parents are working from home, trying to keep their current jobs, or find a new job.
  5. Children who are already struggling will find themselves frustrated, lagging behind even more.
  6. There is no reason to add additional anxiety and stress to parents and children during a time of uncertainty.
  7. As parents, we need to provide security and love.
  8. Life lessons are also important, maybe even more so now than meeting educational milestones.
  9. Realize that everyone’s best effort will look much different than in a structured classroom environment.
  10. Hitting the pause button on education for a moment in time is OK.
  11. Allowing our families to use this time to slow down, reconnect, have dinner together, plant a garden, pick flowers, go for a walk, watch movies, make cupcakes or stare at the sky, instead of rushing to complete assignments is important too.
  12. Adding stress to an already impossible situation is not helpful.

I’m sure some families can handle distance learning better than others, but the point of the public school system is to provide a predictable environment for learning.

According to the Department of Education’s website, “ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Right now across our nation, equal access to learning is not happening. Virginia has shut down school for the remainder of the year, Pennsylvania is closed indefinitely. Each state has their own new standards of how to teach: PBS stations in Los Angeles, distance learning, zoom calls, or putting the burden on parents. One thing’s for sure and that is nothing is consistent or equal when it comes to education right now.

Equal access for kids with IEPs, learning accommodations and 504s are not being met. Access can’t be considered equal when the education is falling on families with different home environments, work obligations and access. Yes schools can help bridge those gaps virtually, but they fall short and the gaps remain, crossing county and state lines throughout our nation.

I am imploring the Florida Department of Education, and I guess in a larger sense, the Education Department for our nation to please consider stopping school for the remainder of the school year so we can resume when the health of the people in our nation is no longer in jeopardy. Please allow families to focus on what’s really the most important thing: staying safe and loving one another.

Sincerely,

An essential, full-time, working from home business-owner with employees, that is a mom to a special needs child, who’s also a wife to a husband who owns a business that is also considered essential, and who would also like to keep all his employees, and together we would like our family to remain somewhat sane in our planet’s current and shared environment.