Parents speak out about school reopening

Oct 13, 2020

Mattapoisett schools have become the focus of an effort to return the town’s youngest students to in-person instruction.

A petition by Mattapoisett parents and guardians makes the case that, with covid cases in the Tri-Town among the lowest in the state (see story on Page 10), more in-person learning would be safe. In fact, the two Sippican School cases identified this week were the first cases associated with an Old Rochester Regional School District since starting school on Sept. 16. (See story on Page 11.) 

Stephanie Clark, one of the writers of the petition, said that the effort came together when a group of parents who felt their questions about the school’s reopening plans have gone unanswered decided it would be better to act as a unit than as individuals.

“There’s a lot of us that are frustrated and we just want some transparency,” Clark said.

Clark stressed that she’s in support of district teachers. And even though the petition specifically requests a return to in-person schooling for kindergarten through third grade, the petition’s creators said that they’re primarily looking for answers from the district. 

“This is really just about getting them to come to the table,” said Michael Kwoka, another creator of the petition. 

All districts were required by the state to submit three back-to-school plans: One for remote learning, a mix of in-person and remote learning, and a return to full-time classroom learning. 

Old Rochester Regional School District parents have only seen the hybrid plan, which is currently in effect. 

The petition calls on the district to consider full in-person learning for elementary students, release that plan to the public, and provide metrics for determining when students could go back to school full-time. 

It also requests a meeting with the district prior to the Oct. 26 Mattapoisett School Committee meeting to involve parents in the discussion of whether or not to return to in-person school. 

There’s also no clear answer for parents who can’t stay home to help younger students, and can’t prepare for a shift to full remote learning when the metrics for such a shift haven’t been released. 

And that causes frustration when nearby districts have laid out similar full-time plans.

“Why can’t we do what they’re doing?” Clark said. “Can we leverage the same kind of metrics?”

At home, Kwoka said technology problems in remote learning have interrupted daily routines. “The gut of it is this is not sustainable,” he said.

Clark said she’s grateful she can work from home, because her second grader wouldn’t be able to learn properly without supervision. 

“He can’t manage his day,” she said. “He’s seven.”

Clark said that unless there’s a meeting between parents and administrators before the Oct. 26 meeting, it’s unlikely that elementary students will be at school in-person full time before 2021.

“It’s hard to be patient anymore,” she said. 

Superintendent Michael Nelson could not be reached for comment before deadline. 

But criticism of the hybrid system isn’t ubiquitous. Some parents have applauded the district’s handling of the situation.

“It seems like the district is making the most out of every opportunity they have,” said Amy Nash of Rochester. 

Her son, Ronan, a fifth grader at Rochester Memorial School, said teachers have been very organized this year. But Nash would also love for there to be more in-person learning opportunities.

Nash’s sister, Amanda Cosindas, moved from Los Angeles to Mattapoisett so that her son, Cannon, could go to school in-person instead of fully remote. 

Like her sister, she said it would be better to have more in-person learning. 

“I can’t say enough good things,” said Katelyn White of Rochester. She has three children in Rochester Memorial School. 

“I feel like teachers have done a really nice job setting things up,” said Emma Becker of Marion, who has two sons at Sippican School. 

She said the remote learning days require parental assistance, but they’ve been going well.

Becker also teaches AP psychology. Last year, she said she was able to get through nearly all of the curriculum, but this year, students are behind because of the late start to the school year. 

Despite the learning challenges, Michael Benson of Rochester and an English teacher, said that students seem to be getting it.

“It’s much more normal than I expected,” he said, adding that it’s been an easier time after the end of last year.