A group of parents in Boston held a virtual rally on Tuesday to protest the school district’s lack of distance learning options for the school year that begins September 9.
Most of the parents present at the gathering had children with complex and fragile health problems.
“I’m really freaked out,” said Courtney Karp, whose daughter has been hospitalized several times in the past with serious respiratory infections.
“We know that when [health experts] to say that “most” children do not get COVID-19 or that most children do not have serious consequences … that “most” unfortunately exclude our daughter, “added Roy, Karp’s husband.
The Karps and other members of the new Massachusetts Parents for Distance Learning Options, want their children’s schools to provide distance learning opportunities until the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children under 12. This approval is currently expected to arrive no earlier than mid-winter.
Distance learning enjoys significant support among parents in Boston. According to a neighborhood survey published in May, more than 1,700 of the 3,208 parents who responded said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to enroll their children in a full-time virtual school. A recent petition published by the parent group currently has over 500 signatures.
Boston public school officials explored the idea of creating a virtual school last spring, but ultimately decided against it. Officials say there was not enough time to plan and collect community feedback for it to work, but added that the district continues to explore a virtual option for the coming school years.
Seven school districts in Massachusetts have been approved by the state to operate single-district virtual schools. Most of them have limited participation in these programs for children with very specific learning and health needs. In Chelsea, one of the approved districts, the new virtual school serves only seven children.
Parents in Massachusetts have other options if they are uncomfortable with in-person learning, such as home schooling or enrolling in one of the two Commonwealth virtual schools that have been around since before. the pandemic.
But for many parents at Tuesday’s rally, these weren’t good choices. Lucas Aviles says he and his daughter, who has Down syndrome, love the school she goes to. He worries that if he takes her out of homeschool for a year, she will likely lose the place she has been given through the district school assignment system which operates in part with a lottery.
“We want our child to go to his school,” Aviles said. “The fact that we want to keep her alive shouldn’t be a reason she loses her seat.”
Much of the limitation surrounding e-learning offerings stems from a state mandate created last spring. In March, state education commissioner Jeff Riley announced that distance learning would not count towards compulsory teaching hours after the 2020-2021 school year.
“We know that when students are in school, they have the opportunity to learn important social and emotional skills, and they have access to mental health and other support services, as well as to healthy meals, ”Riley said in a March statement. note to the Council of Primary and Secondary Education. The commissioner also reports a letter signed by a group of Massachusetts doctors and public health experts supporting the idea that students are more isolated and suffer from more mental and physical health issues while learning at a distance.
However, for parents like Keyona Aviles, these assurances are not enough. The risk of transmission and serious infection for her daughter with Down’s syndrome is too great for her to feel comfortable learning in person.
“I agree that the virtual school was not enough. It is not the same,” said Keyona Aviles. “But pretending that the virus is not yet active is not acceptable.”