Power outages affect distance learning

Jeffrey Tu, Senior Staff Writer

PG&E last week responded to power outages caused by the downing of power lines like these across the Bay Area. Gunn High School experienced a power outage Tuesday morning, interrupting Zoom classes. “Power itself was knocked out for part of the campus, but stayed on in the area I was in, the N Building,” American Classics and Classical Mythology teacher Mark Igler said. “Wifi, however, went down for the entire campus.” Photo: Jeffrey Tu

As her Analysis Honors students were taking a math quiz, Palo Alto High School math teacher Judy Choy’s power line snapped outside her yard in San Mateo.

“I heard a lot of noise, and I actually saw sparks coming out [of the power line] and I thought it would catch fire,” Choy said when asked after her second period class Thursday. 

After the math quiz, Choy notified students that she would leave the class Zoom call early to call 911, junior Joshua Li said. 

Power outages across the Bay Area have adversely affected Palo Alto Unified School District students engaging in distance learning. Teachers who were teaching in-person from the Gunn High School campus specifically were affected, revealing a new shortcoming of distance learning.

Gunn Physics teacher Laurie Pennington who teaches Conceptual Physics during first, second and third periods, says the power and WiFi at parts of Gunn went out just 10 minutes into first period Tuesday. 

“My connection kept dropping and reconnecting,” Pennington stated in an email. “It was a bit frustrating. What was awesome was that I also have an instructional aide, Ms. Jane Miller, in that classroom. She was at home and Zoom made her the host. She kept the students going, thank goodness.”

Power outages are much easier to deal with in-person, she noted.

“The lab we were doing would not have needed electricity,” Pennington stated. “On a day where we are giving some kind of electronic presentation, I would have written on the board. I likely would have pared down the assignment and not required homework, just like I did this year,” 

Marc Igler, who teaches American Classics and Classical Mythology at Gunn, suggested giving teachers hotspots (portable devices that enable internet connection) in the case of a power outage.

“Going into the winter, when power outages and WiFi interruptions could be common, those hotspots would be a nice backstop,” Igler stated in an email.

He reported that about one-fifth of his classes were affected. 

“These sort of things are a headache for teachers … because their classes are now out of sync,” Igler stated. “This can be a headache for students, too, because they may miss some material.”

Power lines were affected by a windstorm on the night of Jan. 18 which had gusts up to 29 mph in the Bay Area, according to Weather Underground. 

Overall, Pennington believes that we should continue adapting to irregularities.

“It’s a COVID [COVID-19] year,” Pennington said. “We all need to just be flexible.”