In recent weeks, the decision for Seattle Public Schools to adopt a new “A or Incomplete” grading policy due to COVID-19 has received substantial backlash from parents and teachers. Some critics say the policy effectively covers up poor grades and inflates Seattle GPAs in comparison to other school districts in the region.
This decision follows a report that Seattle students were among the last in the region to start receiving laptops after schools shut down. Before the pandemic, many students without access to a computer or connection at home could do their work on school grounds or a public library. Faced with months of at-home schooling, the district launched a laptop pick-up plan on April 6 with the support of a $2 million Chromebook donation from Amazon. Three weeks later, only 1,000 laptops had been passed out in the district, which has about 52,000 students. On April 20, nearly a third hadn’t yet logged in to Schoology, the online portal SPS uses to conduct online learning.
“No district’s response has been perfect, and some crises can’t be anticipated. But before the pandemic, critical delays in spending millions in taxpayer money dedicated to technology—including a 2016 levy with $16 million earmarked for student devices—left Seattle Public Schools less prepared than many other neighboring districts, even those with fewer resources,” explains The Seattle Times’ Dahlia Bazzaz.
This isn’t the first time SPS has come under fire in recent years. In January, Ann Dornfeld from KUOW released an investigative report into multiple cases of Seattle teachers physically abusing students and being permitted to continue teaching. Two years ago, James Johnson, a former math teacher at Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill, called a black student the n-word and punched him in the jaw. He was not initially fired, despite an SPS investigation confirming that he had punched a student in the face. Another district investigation in June 2018 found that Johnson had sexually harassed middle school students, touching girls on their shoulders and legs in a way that made them uncomfortable. Instead of termination, SPS reassigned him to work one-on-one with struggling students. After the KUOW report dropped, Johnson was placed on administrative leave.
The report also found that the district often allowed teachers who harm students to remain in the classroom, even after multiple offenses. On at least one occasion, SPS removed evidence of misconduct from a teacher’s personnel file. KUOW obtained records for 10 cases in which teachers were disciplined for verbal abuse, physical abuse, or sexual harassment against students from 2012-2018. Each could have potentially resulted in termination, but only one teacher was forced out of the district.
A month after the KUOW investigation, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau apologized to impassioned families during a community meeting in the Garfield High School auditorium. Juneau has faced sharp criticism from families and staff members over multiple outstanding issues in the district since being appointed Superintendent in July 2018.
“It wasn’t enough,” Maryam Hassan, a parent, told The Seattle Times. “More needs to be said.”