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Mixed reaction to Spokane Public Schools’ plan to keep fall classes online: ‘I feel like I’m being backed into a corner’

Aug. 3, 2020 Updated Mon., Aug. 3, 2020 at 10:43 p.m.

Students leave Lewis and Clark High School at the end of classes March 13, the day Gov. Jay Inslee announced schools would close. Spokane Public School officials are eyeing a possible levy in February 2021 that would replace some of the cuts made even before the pandemic shuttered schools this spring.  (COLIN MULVANY)
Students leave Lewis and Clark High School at the end of classes March 13, the day Gov. Jay Inslee announced schools would close. Spokane Public School officials are eyeing a possible levy in February 2021 that would replace some of the cuts made even before the pandemic shuttered schools this spring. (COLIN MULVANY)
By Chad Sokol and Daisy Zavala The Spokesman-Review

When Spokane’s K-12 students began learning from home, it seemed simple enough for Yamiselis Verdecia, a mother of three.

But as the months went by and with the new school year approaching, Verdecia’s inability to speak English fluently made it increasingly difficult to manage and help her children.

When Spokane Public Schools announced plans Monday to begin the school year online, parents found themselves worried about the quality of online-only learning, a potential for unequal distribution of resources, and balancing their abilities to earn paychecks with ensuring their children are learning at home.

Verdecia, who works for a cleaning company, said her three children who attend Linwood Elementary School have been sharing two laptops, which will be problematic if they can’t all log on at the same time as course schedules require. (The school district said Monday all students will be able to check out laptops.)

At the same time, Verdecia said she feels more comfortable knowing her children are home and safe because she’s not sure what mask enforcement and other safety precautions would look like at schools.

“Many parents are worried about this,” she said in Spanish.

It’s exhausting to translate every message received from the school district, write a response in Spanish and translate it again, Verdecia said. For the upcoming school year, she hopes all information will be accessible to every parent.

Without face-to-face interactions between parents, teachers and school officials, there won’t be room for language interpreters, and that will make things especially hard for older parents and guardians who aren’t tech-savvy, Verdecia said.

“Non-English speakers are having a hard time helping their kids navigate this,” she said. “It’s important for all parents, regardless of their native language, to have access to technology. It’s a necessity.”

Daniel Jensen said the district’s decision left him searching for answers. As a single dad, he worries about his ability to care for his 8-year-old daughter, who’s entering the third grade at Willard Elementary School.

“I’ve been lucky enough that my day care hasn’t shut down entirely. They just limited a lot of their capacity, and she’s been there so long that she was first on the list to stick around,” Jensen said. “When it comes to schooling, she’ll have to just stay in day care instead of having … a five-day learning schedule like she would any other school year.”

It doesn’t help that Jensen, a cook, had his work hours cut due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

“It’s a choice between supporting my daughter because I have to be at work, or I stay home and I become homeless and just don’t pay my bills so I can school her at home myself,” he said. “I feel like I’m being backed into a corner, and those are the only two options I have.”

Julia Escobedo is a single mom of two – entering third and fourth grades. She worries about her kids’ access to the technology needed to complete their coursework. “Does the district really have enough laptops for families with five kids?”

Escobedo, who recently became unemployed, said she’s found more time to sit with her children and help them with their homework.

Although the Escobedo children were familiar with the online learning experience, it hasn’t been completely stress-free, she said.

“I’m worried they won’t be up to their grade’s criteria, but I’m trying,” Escobedo said.

Jessica Butler, a nurse, has a son entering eighth grade at Spokane International Academy, a public charter school authorized by Spokane Public Schools, and a daughter who will be a freshman at Ferris High School.

The online experience has gone smoothly thus far, Butler said.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have family members that have some background in education,” she said.

The Spokane International Academy also provided a tutor to assist her daughter with Spanish.

“It’s really hard to distance-learn a foreign language,” Butler said.

Butler said she wholeheartedly supports the district’s decision to stay online for the first part of the school year, noting the district had time to plan for the fall and has promised some logistical improvements over the spring semester, which was suddenly interrupted by the pandemic.

“I think this is the safest option, and at this point really the only option that we have, at least for the start of the school year,” she said.

She’s not sure when she will feel comfortable sending her children back.

“I’m hopeful, but I don’t know when that’s going to be,” Butler said, adding she doesn’t believe enough people are taking the virus seriously. “We’re now seeing the surge that we expected back in March.”

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