In Monday night’s school committee meeting, both students and parents were virtually present to voice their concerns regarding remote learning. Following a vocal public comment portion of the meeting, School Superintendent Lisa Howard shared the answers that she received last Friday from the Commissioner of Education.
Longtime resident and mother of three, Shannon Poulos, applauded the tireless work being done by the staff and committee members, however, she raised critical concern regarding the town’s growing need for equality.
“There are several Winthrop students who are attending private schools in-person, yet our tax-paying residents can’t access schools. I do not believe that economic status should be what dictates access and opportunity for education. The majority of Winthrop residents don’t want to send their kids to private schools or they simply cannot afford to. During a time when there is so much discussion and protest around social injustice, it’s time to do something about it.”
Poulos brought up the importance of learning to adapt.
“If other industries have learned to adapt with social distance and mask-wearing, then Winthrop Public Schools should too.”
Like Poulos, Marissa Ferrara, mother of four, questioned why it was okay for paid programs like For Kids Only (FKO) and Parks and Rec to be open, while students are forced to stay home and learn remotely.
“I have grave concerns about the remote learning model and I’ve witnessed firsthand the detrimental affect it has had on my senior,” said Ferrara, who is the Senior Class Advisor. “The socioeconomic gap in education that is being caused by this will take years to overcome. Let’s copy the models of the schools that are open and get back to in-person learning.”
Students stepped into the conversation, sharing their personal experiences regarding remote learning.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand how detrimental remote learning is,” said senior, Jenna Dorr, on behalf of her classmates. “Kids of all levels are dealing with tech outages, Zoom confusion, excessive screen time, and a decline in their social emotional wellbeing. I can’t imagine how a first grader feels when they fall behind in a class on the screen. How can a teacher gauge how a student is learning?”
Dorr said that since March, several of her classmates have suffered from depression and anxiety and there is a general fear that no one will be fully prepared for college.
“The risk of the virus is nothing compared to the mental health of 2000 kids.”
Jenna’s sister, Maura mentioned the impact of long days spent in front of a screen. Like her sister, Maura spends nearly her entire school day in front of a screen, from 7:50 am until 2:20 pm, which is then followed by several hours of homework, also in front of a screen.
“Without afterschool sports and activities, I’ve been turning to social media during my downtime. Pediatricians recommend that excessive screen time causes headaches and a lack of social-emotional learning. As students, we get nine short months in every grade level, let’s minimize the damage that is being done and get back to in-person learning.”
In response to the comments, Superintendent Howard shared information that she obtained in her meeting with the Commissioner of Education. Along with Winthrop, six other nearby districts are faced with the same questions surrounding their “red” status.
“When we asked if there was any way to return to in-person learning, the message was clear and if you are a district that has been in the red for any length of time than you are expected to be remote.”
The commissioner shared the color-coded metric that details the DESE learning model expectation, which for red (average daily cases per 100,000 is greater than 8), is a fully remote model.
According to Howard, the Commissioner said that only extenuating circumstances would allow a red district to switch to the hybrid learning model. An example of an extenuating circumstance would be a cluster of incidents stemming from a nursing home or care facility which have driven up the numbers in the entire community. That, according to the Commissioner, is a circumstance that could be taken into consideration.
Without an extenuating circumstance, the School Department COVID Task Force Health and Safety Subcommittee continues to review data daily with Town Nurse Meredith Hurly and the school nurses. Howard said that they are continually updating protocols and plans for how to open when Winthrop is out of the red and in the yellow (average daily cases between 4 and 8).
“We are all in agreement that remote learning and teaching is not ideal for students at any level and we have a strong desire to have them back to in-person learning ASAP.”