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Hillsborough students should not be over-assigned online work, teachers are told

Guildelines call for limited screen time, depending on age.
June and Annie Leonard with their mother, kindergarten teacher Jamie Cook, work on their math at their dining room table in Land O'Lakes, in preparation for next week's transition to distance learning.
June and Annie Leonard with their mother, kindergarten teacher Jamie Cook, work on their math at their dining room table in Land O'Lakes, in preparation for next week's transition to distance learning. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published Apr. 7, 2020
Updated Apr. 7, 2020

TAMPA — Children up to second grade should spend only five to 10 minutes on their computer-based lessons at a time.

For older students, the time spans increase: 15 to 20 minutes for grades three to five, 20 to 30 minutes per course for middle school students and 20 to 40 per course for those in high school.

These guidelines, linked here, are part of a detailed memo that went out to Hillsborough teachers Monday evening as the school district entered its second week of distance learning - or, as some teachers have dubbed it, pandemic learning.

"We are asking all teachers to remain flexible in this process and give consideration for individual student circumstances and to check in with students and/or parents to gauge specific needs," the notice says.

"Accommodations should be provided for households working around shared devices, parent work schedules, technical issues."

The roll-out of e-Learning has met, predictably, with a number of hurdles.

District leaders struggled early on with their Edsby communications platform, a situation they say is better this week. Work continues to purchase and outfit laptop computers, and deliver them to children who are still in need.

In normal times, schools would now be getting ready to hand out report cards for the younger years. Middle and high school students will receive their report cards online, as always, this week. It’s not clear yet when the elementary report cards will be distributed.

“Teachers have kind of taken this full storm and it’s been great,” union president Rob Kriete said during a Facebook Live session Tuesday. “The families are the ones who are struggling, from what we’re understanding.”

Stress and overload are a common theme as families also contend with the threat of COVID-19 and, in some cases, sudden unemployment.

“The e-Learning recommended online time is going to require a lot of teachers to scale back," said Jennings Middle School teacher April Cobb, who has complained openly that teachers’ expectations are unrealistic for some students. “Glad to see leadership make this necessary adjustment.”

Speaking Monday in an interview with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Superintendent Addison Davis acknowledged some students and parents feel overwhelmed.

“That’s a reality,” he said. “We are trying to find that balance between the accountability piece for students and the flexibility to understand that we’ve got to work with them and not overload them.”

The notice went on to say that even the suggested time limits might not work for every child.

“Parents should help their child develop a regular schedule that includes breaks,” the document said.

“Parents are encouraged to communicate with teachers to discuss options for individual circumstances. If additional assistance is needed, the parent should consult with the school counselor and/or administrator.”