As promised, district offers online program for ‘21-‘22

September 10, 2021 — by Howard Shu and Nikhil Mathihalli
Photo by Atrey Desai

While almost all students are on campus and in their seats when the first-period bell rings this year, senior Noora Fayad is one of 16 in the district who have opted to continue with online education at home because of the pandemic. 

Fayad and the others are enrolled in an online Independent Study (IS) program.

Of the 16, seven are from Los Gatos and nine are from Saratoga. Ideally, students’ classes are the same in the IS program as in-person, principal Greg Louie said.

Approved by the district board in August, the IS program includes a mix of synchronous and asynchronous online instruction. Students in the program  earn letter grades and credits comparable to in-person classes.

The decision passed in accordance with the California Department of Education’s Assembly Bill 130, which requires an IS option to be available for the 2021-2022 school year for any student statewide whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction, as determined by the parent or guardian.

Students in IS meet with California State-certified teachers through Edgenuity, a company that helps create a virtual schedule for those with online learning and provides a platform for IS students to do their coursework. The teachers are not teachers from Saratoga or Los Gatos High.

Starting Aug. 26, students also started meeting weekly with a mentor from the district office. The mentor for Saratoga High IS students is activities director Kristen Cunningham.

A typical school day schedule for an IS student is similar to that of an asynchronous Wednesday in the 2020-21 school year schedule. Students can access their assignments at any time and work at their own pace. There is no bell schedule, and students just have to stay at a fast enough pace to complete their work and earn credits for the course.

Fayad said she has not formed a routine yet, but sometimes does college application essays in the morning and then school work at night. 

“As long as you are on track with the dates and times, it doesn’t matter when you do work,” she said.

Fayad chose to continue her education online rather than in-person, because of the risk COVID-19 variants pose to her and her family — especially because her dad has been working with COVID-19 patients. 

“I would hear him talking to them via telemedicine and hear them coughing over video chat trying to communicate their symptoms and how they are feeling,” she said. “I would hear 911 calls to get the ambulance to take patients to nearby ICUs.” 

These experiences influenced her decision to remain online until COVID-19 cases decrease, though those who are approved to participate in the program are allowed to go back to in-person school at any point in the year.

Since IS students are still part of LGSUHSD, they can also participate in any in-person extracurricular activities at school, including sports and clubs throughout the school year despite being in learning online.

Although it varies depending on the course, synchronous sessions may occur through classroom discussions, small groups or one-on-one instruction. 

“Each teacher runs the program unique to their design, similar to traditional in-person teachers,” said Jamal Splane, who is directing the district’s IS program. “Students receive the overview of the class in the beginning of the term, which includes grading, assessment, homework information, etc.”

Parents and guardians can request a student-parent-educator conference to ask questions before making the decision about enrollment or disenrollment in the program. Currently, students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a program developed to ensure specialized instruction for students with an identified disability, may not participate in IS unless the student’s IEP specifically provides for it.

Despite many students in the IS program missing certain aspects of in-person school, Fayad said she is at peace with her decision.

“I miss seeing my friends every day but simultaneously I feel as though I have a moral obligation to stay home,” Fayad said. “I hope that the independent study program just runs smoothly and I would succeed in it as I would in in-person school.”

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