New John column: parents frustrated at WPSchools remote learning

FRUSTRATIONS BY ALL EXPRESSED AT SCHOOL-WIDE PARENT MEETING!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

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A closed Vernon Hill School

Due to the Coronavirus, the Worcester Public Schools, during this first semester, have been operating on a remote learning plan.

Now, based on data from the medical professionals, the educational needs of our students and where we are as a community, a decision was made by the School Committee: bring back students gradually starting November 6. The first group of students coming back will be students with disabilities who receive 75% or more of their services and they will return in person 4 days a week. Also, most of the Chapter 74 students, such as those in vocational schools, will go to shop instruction one day a week.

The new plan at the end of January will be a hybrid model of going to school one day a week with remote the other days and giving the parents the option to stay with the present remote learning model.

Thus far, for many students the remote model has been successful for the district has been able to keep track of the students with twice a week check-ins and have updated the parent portal, giving parents more information about how their children are doing in school. Instruction has been beneficial for many students.

Now, in rolling out the new model, the school superintendent and the Worcester School Committee held a special meeting just for parents this week to inform them of the new model for the second semester, explain why all students could not return to school, and to give parents the opportunity to voice their concerns.

In a five-hour meeting parents expressed their frustrations, gave ideas and some spoke of their child’s success at home. More than 50 parents called in and hundreds listened in.

Many parents want the schools to get their child back to school faster than what was in the plan – and not for only one day a week. Superintendent Maureen Binienda echoed that she too would like that to happen but again explained the difficulties surrounding a quick return by citing the state’s pandemic safety guidelines and the work being done in all the school buildings to upgrade the HVAC (air quality system). She explained that the school is increasing the outside air, improving ventilation and using supplemental filtration where possible.

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High schoolers tend to do well with remote learning.

The district will use a Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization system in all schools, and that work will not be completed until the end of December.

This is a $15 million dollar project paid for by the City. In addition, she explained the social distancing guidelines for riding the bus and the social distancing needed in the classroom are major barriers to returning all students to school.

Due to these factors, most of the students returning in November to the schools that are ready would be what the State refers to as High Needs Students.

At the end of January 2021, the first groups of students returning will be our Pre-k and first graders – but only for one day a week. Then in the coming weeks, the other grade levels will return but for only one day a week, too. Many parents calling were appalled. Parents of early learners explained the difficulties that their child was having with remote learning and spoke about their child’s frustrations, the child crying at home and the lack of education they are getting from remote learning. Many kindergarten parents felt that their child was failing at remote learning.

As one parent stated, “equality is not equity … the format is not developmentally appropriate for a not yet five-year-old. He hates remote learning.”

Other kindergarten parents expressed dissatisfaction with the model and felt that the necessary readiness skills could not be taught remotely, one day a week come January is not going to work and they need a teacher in front of them at least 4 days a week.

Working parents were exasperated with the remote learning and spoke about losing their home if one of them had to give up work.

Thus, wanting their child to return to school more than the model of one day a week.

Others were confused as to who will teach their child if the school goes in person and who teaches the remote students.

One parent stated changing teachers would be detrimental to the child, for their present teacher has established a relationship with the children. Also, the issue of lacking childcare availability was brought up several times.

Parents of teens also had their issues because they felt it was a waste of time to have the schools open only for one day a week.

On the positive side, a few parents felt that the remote learning concept was working for them and that they would stick with that model. Many thanked the teachers for going above and beyond to reach their child and to include them in the learning process.

Parents did implore the school district to try to do all that they could to bring the children back to school for more than one day a week.

As one parent stated: Physical safety is important but so is the mental and emotional health of the students. If the children do not return, we will have bigger problems on our hands.

Superintendent Binienda listened patiently and responded to the parents’ questions and stated that she will try her best, barring changes in guidelines and the spread of the virus, to bring the children back to school as soon as possible. But she could not comment on doing that at this time.

As a Worcester School Committee member, I share the frustrations of our superintendent and the disappointments of our parents. We do need to bring our students back once the school buildings are up to code. And have students in school more than once a week.

Let’s continue to work on a plan with the Mass Department of Education that will bring our students back to school more than one day a week – and hope that a vaccine is in place before the end of this year. And pray that the rising number of Corona cases subsides. We are in a no-win situation, but let us all hope for a speedy return to school!

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