MANCHESTER — A number of parents are urging Manchester Essex Regional School District administrators to allow their children back into the classroom as soon as possible.
“It can be done safely and it should be done now,” said Karin Carroll, a parent of a Manchester Essex High School student and public health director for the city of Gloucester. “Every day of missing in-person instruction matters.”
While the Manchester Essex Regional School Committee voted in early October to allow children enrolled at Manchester Memorial and Essex Elementary schools to do a hybrid model of learning, middle and high school students are still learning remotely.
After the state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley requested that School Committee Chair Sarah Wolf provide a timeline for when the committee anticipates providing in-person instruction for the majority of the district's students, the date of Jan. 18 was selected — a day many parents of middle and high schoolers see as too far away.
“As that January date is also around the projected peak of the flu season, coupled with COVID-19, it could mean that the planned opening is delayed even further,” Carroll said. “If that happens it has a possibility of leaving our kids out of school for over a year.”
“I am not OK with that,” she stressed, outlining the health risks for school-aged children if staying in a remote learning program, including rapid weight gain, increased obesity, increased hospitalization for suicide attempts, and increase in other mental health issues.
While parent Peggy Hegarty-Steck acknowledges that improvements have been made to online learning, “it is not adequate.”
“Our students are now a part of the COVID generations of kids who will feel the detrimental educational and emotional effects of this experience for years to come,” said Hegarty-Steck, who is a parent of a high school junior.
“January 18 feels like a long time to wait and every week we wait, our kids lose,” she added.
The credibility of the school district was also put into question at the School Committee’s meeting Tuesday night, the platform these parents chose to raise their concerns.
“Our school used to serve as a model of excellence for educators and other districts, and sadly this is no longer true,” Manchester resident Jeff Carovillano said, adding that many families are choosing private or home schooling for their children in place of public education.
Jeff Carovillano noted many neighboring school districts have switched to in-classroom and hybrid learning, a move he said he believes Manchester Essex should make.
As the school district has been under fire from both state and local voices for not opening its doors sooner, School Committee members stressed the work that they have done to get where they are today.
“I know you might not believe this, but we do share your concerns as well as the common goal of getting the kids back to school,” Wolf said, explaining that every School Committee member has a child and is experiencing similar — if not the same — situations parents outlined in their comments.
“If you want to know about the painstaking process that we have gone through since last March, I invite you to watch the recordings of the meetings and read the minutes,” she said. “If you do so, it may become clear to you that the School Committee, administrative team, and the teachers are all working cooperatively to ensure the best possible educational delivery during this unprecedented time.”
The factors that the committee has been thinking through as its considers a hybrid mode include:
* The quality of the educational program that are able to be provided given the restrictions of the guidance the school district has received.
* The social-emotional concerns for children in each of the models.
* Staffing challenges as some teachers may not be able to work in-person during the pandemic.
* Financial implications of implementing the models.
"We do have to take all of these factors into consideration as we do make our decision," Wolf said. "We do care very deeply about the children, that is why we do this volunteer work."
Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or email@example.com.