Sharing yourself with others inside your personal space has been a challenge to students in COVID times.
That is what some students said about distance learning, where they feel their homes, bedrooms, and even their own faces are under intense scrutiny by their teachers and classmates.
California state law requires students to interact with their peers and teachers every day during distance learning, but has set no particular webcam policy as to how teachers and students maintain face-to-face interaction when they can’t be in the same location.
The COVID-19 pandemic sent 6 million California students to their homes for their education in March, and more than six months later, most are still there.
For parents, especially those with multiple children online at the same time, finding personal spaces where their students won’t feel judged is difficult to do.
“It’s absurd to be asked to change the way my house is decorated,” said Tiffany Sines, whose 16-year-old son exited his Zoom class earlier this month after his teacher threatened to kick him out if he did not sit up in full view of the camera or reposition his webcam off a Trump 2020 flag that was hanging on his bedroom wall.
In schools, where kids are cyberbullied for the clothing they wear, the anxiety of being on screen for a long period of time or revealing too much about their home environment creates a lot of pressure. Many school districts in California only require students to turn on their cameras for the purpose of calling roll, but do not require, because there is no established state policy, to leave their cameras on for the entire session.
Colusa Unified parents have suggested that teachers could manage disruptive behavior or disruptive backgrounds simply by turning off their students’ cameras without actually kicking them out of class or disrupting the entire lesson for other students, and then deal with the behavior later.
“The smartest approach would be to shut the camera off,” Sines said, who said her son’s teacher started counting slowly to 15 before disciplinary action was to be taken.
Sines, who requested the school board address the privacy concerns of parents and students, apologized to the school board at their Sept. 21 virtual meeting for comments she made at the previous meeting, but said “as a mom, what happened was extremely upsetting.”
The incident in the high school chemistry class was recorded and posted to social media by another student, which is a violation of the existing education code of California, as clearly stated in the student’s handbook, said Colusa Unified School Superintendent Jeff Turner.
As for the classroom incident, which led to a social media attack on both the teacher and Sines’ son, Turner said it is an issue the school district will tackle, just as the district worked to overcome the internet connectivity and technology issues in a rural area.
Turner reminded parents and teachers that educating students in a virtual world is still new for everyone.
“As with all new things, there are bumps in the road and bugs,” Turner reported to the school board. “As human beings, we are not perfect. We have heard the concerns that have been articulated and we want to address them.”
Turner said he expects by the next school board meeting to have a supplemental to the existing policy that deals with digital rights and responsibilities, digital etiquette, and “how to behave in a virtual world.”
Turner said he and the technology director are working on providing a web/video supplement to the district’s technology use waiver that will hopefully provide clarity to Colusa Unified School District families and students as to expectations of interacting on line in virtual classrooms. ♣