Parents protest and demand school board allow their children to return to the classroom

With masks on their faces and signs in their hands, a group of about 50 parents let the Broward County School Board know what they want for the fall: the option for face-to-face schooling five days a week.

The parents, who are part of a Facebook group called Broward Parents for the Return to School, gathered at 9 a.m. Tuesday outside of the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building in downtown Fort Lauderdale, protesting for the hour before the meeting began at 10 a.m. 

“The virtual learning has been pushed, the hybrid – however that is supposed to look like – has been pushed. All we’re asking for is there should be an option for those families and teachers to go back 100 percent, five days a week,” said Jen, who asked that her last name not be used. Her children are going into second and fourth grade.

School Board members did not appear to use the front entrance where the group was, however, Kathy Koch, the district’s chief communications officer, addressed the media as parents yelled “five days face to face.”

In a survey conducted by the district, 36 percent of parents wanted schools to fully reopen, 24 percent wanted fully online, and 33 percent wanted a hybrid model. Teachers and staff were also queried, with 37 percent wanting a hybrid model, 29 percent for fully reopening schools, and 25 percent fully online. Of students surveyed, 30 percent wanted to go to school and 29 percent wanted to stay online.

Deirdre, who also asked to not have her last name used, has children in elementary and middle school.

“We’ve gotten some backlash from parents who think we want to force them to send their kids to school. Absolutely not,” she said. “We 100 percent understand and we are on board if parents don’t want to send their children to school. They have had that choice on the table since day one and we stand with them as well.”

For Jen, who is an essential worker and the primary caregiver and provider for her two children, virtual schooling will be tough to manage. She says she has had to pay “a second mortgage” the last two months to find childcare while she is at work. One of her children was able to easily adapt to virtual learning, but her youngest struggled. 

“A first grader requires a lot more supervision in the e-learning,” she said. “You can’t sit them in front of a computer and tell them, ‘Go through your schedule for the day and do it yourself.’”

Some parents also referenced a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is recommending that students physically attend schools in the fall.

According to a Distance Learning & Wellness Survey by the district, 52 percent of students found it “hard to get motivated to complete distance learning assignments,” 44 percent were confused about assignments and 67 percent “never or infrequently” get help from an adult at home.

For teachers, 82 percent used district-provided professional development and 63 percent felt confident using virtual learning tools

David Sangiao-Parga, a teacher and father of four, says he would like to see the option for parents to be able to choose to send their children to school full time or continue with virtual school.

“I understand this is an emergency situation for this past semester. You do what you can, but we’ve had months of time to prepare and to make accommodations to make sure that things are opened up safely and properly,” he said.

He suggested temperature checks and hand sanitizer in classrooms, as well as allowing teachers who are immunocompromised or not comfortable coming back to continue with virtual school. He also hopes that teachers would get the training and support that they need to succeed.

“When you have a teacher that doesn’t understand something and is cut off from being able to use the techniques that he or she may have used for literally decades, you’re essentially turning them into first year teachers again,” he said. “We’ve been given training for [Canvas Learning Management Platform] before, but like with everything else, a lot of it is just you go to a workshop for a day or you go online and do an online walk through.” 

Parents have received a second survey asking what they want for the upcoming school year: 100 percent e-learning, full face-to-face schooling, a hybrid model, or the Broward Virtual School program. The survey closes July 6.

The first day of school in Broward County is Aug. 19.

Originally published in The New Pelican.

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