Monday, June 17, 2024

Parents & Class Size Matters file legal challenge to DOE plan to place students in online classes without parent consent

  On June 12, Class Size Matters and four parents launched a legal challenge to the DOE guidance on online learning.  See our press release, the legal papers, and articles in the Daily News and Politico.  Listen also to my interview on last night's Talk out of School, with attorney Laura Barbieri and two of the plaintiffs, teacher and parent Amanda Vender, and Tanesha Grant, parent and founder of Parents Supporting Parents NY.

While the state regulations approved by the Board of Regents on April 28, 2024 clearly require parent consent before a student can be assigned to an online class, the DOE guidance sent to school administrators two weeks later says that while schools should try to obtain parent consent, they can "program students for virtual/blended courses in STARS in anticipation of getting back Parent Opt-In Forms…. The student may remain in the virtual/blended course in accordance with the school’s existing add/drop policies or until the parent declines to have their student participate in the virtual/blended course, whichever occurs first."  

Clearly, this is not parent consent but parent opt-out, a much weaker procedure that is non-compliant with the regulations.  And as several parent plaintiffs pointed out in their affidavits, given how haphazard and inconsistent communication with families is at many schools, many parents may not even become aware to the  fact that their children have been assigned to online classes until it is too late to pull them out.

According to the UFT contract, teachers also have to consent to teaching a remote class before they can be assigned to one, but many are apparently unaware of this fact. Instead, at least some principals are making these decisions without conferring with either teachers or parents.  For example, a high school teacher told me that his principal  applied to DOE to  hold all classes remotely on Fridays, without polling him or other teachers first to see if they had agreed to this.

I urge all parents to immediately ask their principal if there is a plan to hold online classes next year, and if so, if they will obtain parental consent before assigning their children to these classes. Parents should also contact your School Leadership Team to see if they've discussed this matter, and if online learning is being adopted, ask if that is part of the school's Comprehensive Education Plan that all SLT members must consent to.  Teachers should also ask these questions, and  understand their right to refuse to teach online classes, according to the UFT contract.

As is obvious to nearly everyone, online learning during the pandemic seriously failed the great majority of students.  Many fell behind academically, became disengaged, and suffered mental health challenges as a result.  The fact that DOE has proposed to expand online learning as part of their plan to comply with the class size law rather than building enough additional classroom space is especially unacceptable - as remote classes will likely undermine any of the benefits that smaller classes would otherwise be expected to provide.

Yet during his campaign,  more than a year before the class size law was passed, Eric Adams proposed expanding online learning in February 2021, an idea which met with much controversy and even some ridicule.  While both he and the Chancellor now admit that no other large district in the nation is considering such a move, they point to this as a matter of pride, rather than acknowledging that perhaps others learned important lessons from the pandemic that they are resistant to learning for some reason.  

When Adams announced the new UFT contract in 2023 that allowed for the expansion of online learning, he said “Look, you all aren’t going to appreciate what I’m doing until I’m done. You are going to look back and say this guy was just ahead of what other people want. This is New York – we lead from the front...”   

Chancellor Banks proclaimed that this is "not just a reimagined experience for kids, it's a reimagined experience for teachers as well... when you want to really focus on how to make the profession respected at an even higher level, you have to engage in new and creative ways for teachers to even be able to teach. And I think that this is 21st-century thinking. We're the first major school district in the nation that is even taking this on."

If Adams and Banks are stubbornly resistant to understanding how virtual learning risks severely undermining the quality of teaching and learning in NYC schools, it must then be the responsibility of parents, educators and  advocates to do what we can to stop this runaway train.

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