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Santa Maria Joint-Union students protest attendance requirements, lack of communication

Santa Maria Joint-Union students protest attendance requirements, lack of communication

From the What you need to know for Tuesday, November 17 series

A small group of students in the Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District gathered outside the district office Monday afternoon to protest new daily attendance requirements for distance learning, asking for more communication and transparency from leaders.

The district's original fall schedule divided students into two alphabetical groups, with all students required to attend classes via Zoom three out of five days of the week. All students would Zoom into periods 1 through 7 on Monday, then attend classes on either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday. 

Several students have pushed back against the new attendance system, which gets rid of the alphabetical split and, instead, requires all students to log in on Zoom five days a week.

The district Board of Trustees approved the attendance change during a Nov. 10 meeting, after administrators shared that while the original schedule met state requirements for instructional minutes, it did not meet daily live interaction requirements. 

The sudden change, which was shared with families last Wednesday and implemented Monday, left students wondering why the district did not seek student feedback or solicit concerns earlier. 

"The most significant way this impacts us is mental health, because a lot of the days we had off were used to work on other assignments and complete college applications," Santa Maria High School senior Jenny Angel said outside the district office. 

She added that lots of students also have to take care of younger siblings or work when they're not in class, putting them in an even more difficult position during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Angel and several other students have formed a student group called No Education Without Representation, creating a petition signed by 1,700 students calling for more transparency from the district and organizing Monday's protest. 

At one point, Superintendent Antonio Garcia came outside to talk with students on Monday afternoon and express interest in working together more closely in the future.

"We take into consideration a lot of different factors," Garcia said. "I want to validate and acknowledge the challenges that this learning environment has placed on students." 

Ellen Barger, Santa Barbara County Education Office assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said that Santa Maria Joint-Union district officials were informed about the daily attendance insufficiencies in their schedule in early November after reaching out directly to the county regarding their schedule. 

"When they shared it with us, we agreed that it was not up to [state requirements]," Barger said. "Students did have the instructional minute requirement, but together we agreed that one piece was missing."

The California Department of Education outlined daily live interaction requirements for distance learning in June, defined as "two-way communication between a certificated employee and student each instructional day, at the actual time of occurrence." 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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