Their specific stories may vary, but many of the people calling for Stillwater Public Schools to get kids back in classrooms say neither students nor parents are doing well under the district’s current distance learning program.
Parents of younger children say it’s no way for small children to learn and it doesn’t address the social development that is crucial for children.
Parents who gathered on the lawn of the Board of Education Building Tuesday and those who addressed the school board during its meeting, told stories of stressed-out children and parents driven to tears as they struggle to complete school work at night, sometimes long past the usual bed time.
Kami Shipman, who has children in 2nd grade and Pre-K, said she and her husband are essential works who continued going in through the shutdown.
When the family gets home, there’s time for a quick dinner and bath before starting schoolwork at about 7:30 p.m. Her children are up past 10 p.m., trying to finish their school work and aren’t getting enough sleep, she said.
She said teachers are also essential workers and asked the board to change how it determines school closures.
“I’m not asking more than has been required of me, to serve the needs of the community,” she said.
Courtney Miller is the mother of a kindergarten student who she says was excited to meet her teacher and attend school, but now becomes frustrated and cries when she has to do schoolwork on the computer.
“She now hates kindergarten,” Miller said of her daughter.
Older students said they want to be with their friends and are willing to wear masks and maintain social distance if it means they can be in school.
Maggie Green and Taylor Davis, both sophomores at Stillwater High School, said it seems like priorities are out of order when students can’t go to public school but stores are open, university students can go to class and go to bars and football games are still happening.
Maggie’s mother Amy Green said she worries about kids feeling isolated and becoming depressed.
Her own daughter cries every day, she said.
Amy Green is willing to take the risk of sending her daughter to school in person because she feels comfortable with the mask requirements and cleaning procedures the district already adopted.
Some said they are OK but they’re concerned about the families who can’t afford child care, the parents who can’t take time off work and the children who are left alone to try to figure it out for themselves.
“(We’re) kind of just feeling like they shouldn’t have to choose between what basic need they’re going to have to fill for the day, whether it’s a child having supervision or a child having an education or being able to feed their families,” Josie Ehlers said. “We don’t feel like it’s being talked about enough.”
The teachers were generally lauded for going above and beyond for their students, but the metric used to determine whether traditional classroom instruction is appropriate came under fire.
Some parents accused the district of hypocrisy for allowing sporting events to continue if it's not safe for students to be in school.
Scott Wallace told the school board her doesn’t believe safety or community spread was actually behind the decision to go to distance learning. Instead, he blamed “a vocal minority” of teachers for the decision.
A few people praised the board for making what they characterized as a tough decision with safety in mind.
Preston Bobo said parents who enrolled their children for traditional instruction knew it was possible that distance learning could happen and he called any other assertion “incredibly disingenuous.”
Studies that have shown children can carry high viral loads without showing symptoms, which puts them at risk from carrying it to vulnerable family members and school staff, he said.
“I think waiting until kids are infected to close classes is immoral,” Bobo said. “ … I think it’s the moral choice to keep as many people from getting the virus as possible.”
District administration is developing an alternating schedules a half-step between traditional and distance learning.
The district is also making other adjustments based on feedback from parents that are designed make things easier on them, Superintendent Marc Moore told the board members.
“I wish I had this month to live over again,” he said.