San Jose students start school online, teachers can choose to work at home or school

Nearly 30,000 students "headed" to school at San Jose Unified on Wednesday, which meant they had to flip on their computers instead of going into the classroom on the first day of school.

Most teachers were at their respective homes too, welcoming the kids over screens from the comforts of their kitchens or living rooms.

Some parents and kids experienced early bumps in the road with tech issues such as logging on. 

“It was exciting! I think a lot of times you can feel isolated as a parent,” said Natalie Mathison, the mother of a first-grader attending a San Jose Unified school for the first time.

“Generally the instruction is synchronous, or live,- just with the teacher sometimes saying, 'we'll release you to do some work on your own, but I'll be available if you have any questions,'” said Ben Spielberg, public engagement officer for the district. 
In a last-minute switch, the district allowed the teachers the choice to work from home. Teachers received an email from the San Jose Teachers Association at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday informing them that they could choose where to work from. 

"We are pleased to offer the opportunity to work from home to more employees,” J. Dominic Bejarano, assistant superintendent of Human Resources for San José Unified said in a statement. “Once we had an agreement with the union that the quality of instruction from home would be equivalent to instruction from the classroom, we were happy to extend the option to all of our teachers.”

 Many teachers and parents had criticized the district’s requirement, saying it was placing teachers in the path of coronavirus by exposing them to more people, who could then spread COVID-19.

“Returning to a shared space. Shared restroom, shared common areas, I think makes a lot of people nervous right now,” said Patrick Bernhardt, president of the San Jose Teachers Association. 

He said the teacher’s union and district haggled for six-weeks before settling on a "Memorandum of Understanding." It provides teachers with the option of working from home or their school site. Between 100-200 teachers are taking advantage of the opportunity to work from home.
“I don’t think this is anybody’s choice for how we would open school, um, but it is the safe way to do it,” said Bernhardt.

San Jose Unified students kicked off the school year with a full school day of distance learning — as opposed to other districts, including Oakland Unified, where teachers are only teaching 30 to 45 minutes a day for the first week and possibly longer until they finalize a contract with their district. 

In the past week, San José Unified said in a news release that they have distributed tens of thousands of Chromebooks, iPads, hotspots, textbooks, and supplies to students. Teachers and staff were provided with dozens of professional development modules on safety protocols, the technologies being used for distance learning, and how to effectively provide instruction to students at home, the district said.

In addition, San José Unified is offering training for families and students to help them navigate the new distance learning technologies. Families also have access to technical support and services to support social and emotional well-being.

In a previous interview with KTVU, San Jose Taunya Jaco said she did not want to teach from the classroom because it would mean she would be interacting with more people and leaving the home, something that she said put her elderly parents at risk because she cared for them. 

"Am I going to choose between doing what I love professionally versus keeping the people I love safe, personally?" she asked earlier this summer.

KTVU's Azenith Smith and Jesse Gary contributed to this report.