After months of brainstorming options to safely resume classes next fall, the recommended plan to blend in-class and at-home learning is being roundly criticized by parents.
A week after Superintendent Eric Williams presented his plan to have students attend in-person classes two days each and participate in beefed up distance learning at home on other days, dozens of parents joined the School Board’s virtual meeting Tuesday night to reject that concept. Critics of the plan also staged a protest outside the School Administration Building in Broadlands on Monday.
Over the course of two hours Tuesday night, with more than 900 viewers logged in to watch the proceedings online, speaker after speaker panned the plan. Callers said it amounted to ineffective, part-time education. They said students, in an age group unlikely to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 infections, require both more in-person learning and more social interaction with peers. And they worried about the daunting challenges of helping to teach their children at home or finding—and affording—adequate childcare during at-home school days while parents are working. Others said it was far from clear that the state of the pandemic would make it safe for any student or teacher to return to class. While some worried about the risks to exposure to the virus, other speakers said there was greater risk of students suffering mental health problems from being isolated from their classmates and teachers.
Under the concept presented to the School Board last week following weeks of focus-group meetings, most students would go to school either on Tuesdays and Thursday or Wednesday and Fridays for in-person instruction. On their off days, they would have at-home assignments with a daily online check-in with a teacher. Provisions are proposed to allow special education and English learners to go to class more frequently because of the challenges they face with distance learning.
Compared with the distance learning program that was quickly rolled out after schools closed in March in response to the pandemic—which several parents addressing the board Tuesday described as disastrous—students next year would have to meet higher standards. The online coursework would have greater structure and a more consistent schedule. There will be more live interactive instruction. And most notably, the work will be graded and participation mandatory—two elements not included previously.
Instead of the two-day in class/three days at home “hybrid” plan, speakers pushed for an all-in/opt-out model or simply committing to an all-distance learning plan. The clear majority favored pushing ahead with fulltime, five-days-a-week classes, with provisions to allow parents to have their students participate only in online learning.
In addition to the feedback at the meeting, the School Board is awaiting the results of a survey sent to parents and teachers asking if they would likely participate in in-person learning given the state of the COVID-19 response. Those results were not expected to be available until next week.
The School Board has scheduled a special meeting on June 29 to focus on the reopening plan. Williams has asked the board to formally endorse the broad concepts of the hybrid plan so that administrators could hammer out the details over the next several weeks.
The School Board typically does not meet in July and is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 11.
Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 27.