Seattle schools closed, no online learning option offered

The closure of public schools in Seattle is not accompanied by online learning offerings, despite budget excesses that would enable it.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

On Friday, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced the closing of all schools in the state through April 27th in response to the coronavirus. This followed an initial order by the Governor earlier in the week announcing the closure of schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the most populated counties in the state. Online classes will not be held.

Across the country, many public school districts stated that they would not hold online classes. Reasons given by public school districts ranged from that students are unable to afford internet and electronic devices, to teachers not wanting students to see the inside of their homes. Some districts even said that teachers worried about students having recordings of them and turning them into memes and GIFs.

Buried way down in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Covid 19 FAQS was Why isn’t the district providing online learning?

“OSPI does not recommend an online distance learning model unless a district can ensure that all students will have equal access to learning. Seattle Public Schools is the largest district in our state with a diverse student population and many of our students do not have regular access to technology or the internet.”

Using Seattle as an example for school districts across the country, according to SPS enrollment numbers, there were approximately 53,000 students enrolled in SPS 2018. According to their own internals, an average across the schools of 13% of students may come from families that cannot afford technology in their homes, which translates to approx 6,890 students.

According to employees and parents I interviewed at SPS, many teachers in the school system already use Google Classroom. Some of the low income parents told me that their children do their homework at the libraries (which are now also closed.) I asked if their children had cellphones with data. All of them said yes.

In response to the closures, many providers have made internet access free or set up wifi hot spots. According to “AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Mint Mobile are offering unlimited Data for users. Charter will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription and at any service level up to 100 Mbps. Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free—including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers.”

Even assuming these students do not have cell phones, it appears that there are plenty of options for internet for low income families. Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are all extremely generous with technology grants for low income students and could be asked to provide tablets to the 6,890 students.

Assuming the unlikely event that none of that was possible and SPS had to buy every single one of those students an I-pad with a data plan, at $499 each retail without any discounts, it would cost SPS $3,438,110.

SPS has many programs not operating because of the shutdown. Assuming an 11% reduction from 6 weeks of no school, there are funds available in a 1.04 billion dollar budget to offset this expense.

KNHC Radio is a line items in the SPS budget. If this is a student run station, shouldn’t radio stations pay for themselves with advertising? Or is SPS taking out advertising? Either way no one is running it right now or needing the advertising. At only an 11% reduction that is $68,366.65.

The school buildings are not being used. A utilities reduction at 11% is 1,598,370.84. Assuming buildings still need to be heated to keep pipes from freezing, admins to come in and work and daycare services for first responders and medical stuff, we can still take that number to $1,000,000.

SPS has a District reserve of 24.4 Million dollars. Perhaps now in this national, state and local emergency, this would be a good time to tap into it for education services.

The SPS budget Central services takes 5.6% of “the pie.” According to the SPS website “Central administration includes the Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent and the Board of Directors. Also included are business and human resource services, communications, legal costs, and the supervision of the central departments… Central Staff estimated 650 employees.” The main office for SPS has a beautiful building on 4th Avenue in Seattle, where not a single student is taught and 650 employees work at a cost of $58,240,000. The board of directors alone has a line item of $3,800,768. Supervision of instruction, which is not happening, is still operating at a cost of $24,348,206.

Without cutting a single teacher’s salary, without affecting meal programs that feed low income students, this problem could be solved immediately many times over within the existing budget. Where are the unions who are always claiming they are advocating for the “best interests of the students?"

SPS parents are now desperately looking for and sharing online educational resources, which are abundant. This is especially important to those who still have to work, even from home, or are single parents. Parents with special needs students are panicked because the closures and lack of supplemental options impede the mental and physical progress of students.

Meanwhile, Seattle Charter schools have online learning ready to go.

Private schools, with far fewer financial resources than SPS, which were not set up for online learning have been working on the spot with their IT staff to set up ZOOM classrooms for live sessions with teachers, and other alternatives for online learning. Charter and private schools have made the student’s education their priority while SPS had made excuses theirs. Charter schools and private schools should be praised and rewarded for prioritizing the students.

The average grade of an SPS student, according to their own internals, is below failing. The system has failed these students for decades at an ever growing expense to tax payers. Out of sight is usually out of mind and students are out of their homes the majority of the day. Now, being at home with their parents, all day every day, with parents responsible for their children’s education, with growing controversy over mandated SPS curriculum, will parents demand more or say enough is enough and look into alternate options for schooling?


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