PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of Pinellas County parents say they feel like their students are being shortchanged because teachers are having to work simultaneously with students learning from home and those learning in the classroom.
Over the first four days of school, St. Petersburg mom Amanda Loeffler says she’s been overcome with emotion.
“I’m angry. I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed,” she said with a sigh.
Three of Loeffler’s children are school-aged and all three are enrolled in My PCS from home. Her son in elementary school has a dedicated virtual teacher and she says the experience has been overall good. Her older children in middle school have teachers working in a classroom while broadcasting live to students at home, too. That, she says is not working out.
“This is not okay. This is not what any of us want for any of our kids,” she said.
Loeffler said parents were misled when they signed up for the virtual My PCS program and told they would have dedicated teachers to help at-home learners and separate teachers to conduct face to face classroom education.
“I feel like our kids are being cheated. I feel like our teachers are being cheated. That seems impossible to me. How in the world do you divide your focus when you have kids in the classroom that don’t understand what’s going on, kids at home that don’t know what’s going on and the poor teacher trying to go back and forth between the two? Nobody is learning anything,” Loeffler elaborated.
Loeffler started an online petition and more than 600 parents signed it within days. The petition asks the Pinellas County School District to restructure their plan to allow for “reasonable sized classes that are independent of one another and not simultaneous.”
Sondra Hannan, a St. Petersburg parent of two school-aged children, also shared her thoughts on simultaneous learning.
“It’s almost like watered down school,” she added.
Hannan has a high school student and an 8th grader. The high schooler is going to class in person and she says is sometimes forced to be on his phone or a computer in class with little interaction. Her middle schooler is doing My PCS online and has a simultaneous teacher.
“The teacher will spend a set amount of time with the online students and then focus on the in-person students for awhile. You see them going back and forth. Everyone is trying to do the best they can but I know it’s really stressful on the teachers and I’m like well they’re (the in-person students) not really getting anything by being there,” Hannan added.
District leaders tell ABC Action News 52% of teachers are working simultaneously, 36% are working with face to face students and 12% are working with only virtual students.
School district leaders say there simply aren’t enough educators to dedicate specifically to online courses and to face to face learning while keeping the number of students in the classrooms small and socially distanced.
District leaders also plan to add more technology like monitors and microphones (which they say are currently on backorder because of demand nationwide). They’re also helping teachers with ready to go curriculum and training videos to make it easier for teachers to work simultaneously.
The district adds that simultaneous teaching has been part of the reopening plan from the beginning and it was up to schools to make the decision if they wanted to use simultaneous learning.
In a statement, Kevin Hendrick, the Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services says,
“Individual schools, working with teachers in each grade level or content area, examined the number of students choosing MyPCS online, the number of teachers needing to teach virtually, and then created schedules accordingly. In some cases, schools completely separated virtual and face to face students. In other cases, schools opted for some simultaneous classes as the best method for balancing student choices and teacher needs. Schools and the school district as a whole are monitoring schedules and balance the quality of instruction, support, and any technology issues against the health and safety reasons that have led to simultaneous scheduling. We are working to make the best of a less than optimal pandemic situation. If we find that it is not working in individual classrooms, with certain groups of students, or on a larger scale, we will make adjustments accordingly.”
Parents worry if simultaneous learning continues throughout the remainder of the school year, their kids may not thrive.
“I just want there to be equity in our education and I want the kids to be able to have a teacher that’s just focused on whatever platform that they’re in,” Loeffler pled.