After getting a peek into their kids' virtual classrooms during distance learning, some parents still want to be a fly on the wall now that school's back in person.
The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District already has protocols in place for class visitation, but the district's school board recently discussed it after questions were raised about the public's right to the classroom.
"Nationally, statewide, locally, parents during the shutdown, both the distance learning and the hybrid, saw [classrooms] firsthand from their living rooms for the first time probably since they were in school themselves," District Superintendent Curt Dubost told New Times. "They were watching classes being taught, and a lot of what they saw was positive. Some of it gave some of them concerns about what they were seeing."
Dubost said the goal is to both protect the rights of teachers in their classrooms and maintain transparency for the public to see what their tax dollars are paying for.
District Director of Curriculum and Instruction Erin Haley said that once a visitation is approved, teachers always get a 24-hour notice. Board members can visit any class. Parents who want to visit a class their child is taking or considering must be accompanied by a site administrator. Community members without a student in attendance can request a classroom visitation, too, but only up to twice a year. All visitors must comply with COVID-19 protocols.
"An example would maybe be a parent who's thinking about bringing their child to Paso schools [and] they want to visit a classroom," Haley said at a Sept. 28 board meeting. "We're just trying to not lock anybody from our classrooms, but limit the amount of traffic that goes through our classrooms."
Jim Lynett, executive director of the Paso Robles Public Educators union, believes the increased interest in visitation is rooted in controversial topics like masking and vaccination.
"A very distinct, vocal, and loud minority want to interject themselves into policy and public education in general," Lynett said. "So I think that the superintendent and the school board, to be fair, are trying to walk a very difficult line of compromise so that people can visit the classrooms and can see what's happening, because we always want to support that, but not to have it be too intrusive or be disruptive to the educational process."
Lynett said one thing the meeting made clear is that visitation can't have an "evaluative component" to it.
"In other words, a parent or a community member or a school board member, their place is not to evaluate what the teacher is doing in the classroom," Lynett said. "Their place is to see what's going on in the classroom and get an idea of it, but they are not evaluators of those teachers."
Haley also said the district is making an effort to include parents and students, if appropriate, in its curriculum review process, based on feedback from when the district added an ethnic studies course earlier this year.
When a teacher requests a new piece of core curriculum (like a textbook), and it's approved by teachers in their department or grade level, site administrators are the next to review it. Then, the teacher brings it to a curriculum council.
This is where Haley said the district will include parents and students when it can. Council feedback will then be passed to the superintendent before a community notification goes out. The school board ultimately approves it.
"Nothing is really significantly different there from the current model," Haley said, "except that we do intend to include more perspectives, based on feedback from the process with ethnic studies." Δ