While the recent power shutoffs by Southern California Edison would frustrate the thousands of residents they affected during normal times, these past few weeks of unreliable electricity during a global pandemic have forced school district staff and families to adapt their distance-learning strategies.
Erin Zegarra, a mother of three Saugus Union School District students who live in Canyon Country, said her kids had a mixed reaction to the outages. For Zegarra’s household, the power was out for a 24-hour period, which was met with elation from two kids and anxiety from the other.
“For him, we’re working on coping skills,” said Zegarra. “My other two kiddos were like, ‘Oh yeah — break time!’”
Zegarra said that despite a number of families in her neighborhood undergoing similar challenges, with the power and wifi being out for an extended period of time, class schedules did not change for her kids.
There is more flexibility for the students in the neighborhoods being affected by the outages, Zegarra said, with assignment deadlines being extended across the board, or teachers allowing students to email them informing them of the situation.
Although her three distance-learners did not experience power shutoffs, Rachael Garel said her two William S. Hart Union High School District students and one Newhall School District student had been in contact with their teachers about the possible power outages, and to make supplementary plans to ensure their work was complete.
“We got an email and call from each of the schools, saying that if the power went out, to just have the kids check their Google classrooms when they could,” said Garel. “And all their assignments would be posted there.”
Despite having an experience that she described as “uninterrupted” by the power shutoffs, Garel spoke to how the asynchronous model of learning the districts are using (meaning that the teacher and student do not have to be in front of one another in a live feed) leaves some kids behind.
“A lot of the math they do in fourth grade would normally be hands-on, object-based math,” said Garel, speaking about her fourth-grade daughter’s curriculum. “We’re trying to explain fractions to her online over a computer; it’s just not landing.”
“We’re interviewing private schools right now,” she added. “She’s taken assessments at a private school and her scores were beyond failing, beyond where she should be. We’re super concerned and we’re thinking about changing things up.”
A number of the SCV’s superintendents discussed this week how their staff and students had to adapt to the power shutoffs, from becoming more flexible with due dates to sending messaging to parents about how to complete assignments without power to even using backup generators at school sites to ensure power for their in-person cohorts.
Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said Thursday that three of her school sites went without power for a time: Rio Vista, Cedar Creek and Highlands. She said, as an example of how the outages affected her staff, that the Highlands special day classes were in the dark before a generator was turned on, showing how teachers also had to go the extra mile in the classroom.
“(The special day class teachers) taught on campus on Tuesday, and they had to use their generator effectively,” said Hawkins. “Of course, it doesn’t meet all the needs you have for electronics, but they did that because they lost power at a time where the kids were already coming to school and it was too late to reverse course.”
Hawkins said during normal times, without a global pandemic, the school could function without power. But because the surrounding neighborhoods were without electricity, it made working with a digital platform more difficult.
Catherine Kawaguchi, superintendent for the Sulphur Springs Union School District, which is no stranger to the PSPS process nor having school interrupted due to fire danger, said the district was prepared in the event of a shutoff.
“What we’ve done is that we already have a lot of the materials at home,” said Kawaguchi. “So we make sure in advance that the units, and the materials, are actually sent home. So they didn’t have to download, they have the actual hard materials at home.”
Superintendent Steve Doyle for the Castaic Union School District said that while district families were affected by the outages, there was an overall “minimal impact to our community.
“We have had a handful of parents contact their school about power outages or spotty internet,” said Doyle. “We did have students affected on Tuesday due to the winds on Templin Highway.”
National Weather Service officials called the weather event that occurred this week a “rare phenomena,” saying that winds upwards of 80 mph occur every 5-10 years in the area. However, moving forward, in the event of future wind events and power shutoffs, educators and families have asked for improvements.
Zegarra said, distance learning aside, she would like to see the districts begin implementing power shutoff days, which would function similarly to fire days, so that the students, such as her son working through anxiety associated with falling behind, could be all on the same plane — regardless of neighborhood.