Families need answers on school details

Parents are being left in the dark with new year looming

WHEN THE SCHOOL YEAR ended in June, parents scrambled to find activities to keep their children occupied during the pandemic’s long summer days.

While families did their best to juggle kids and jobs, they assumed district leaders and educators were using the summer to transition from a spring of “emergency” remote learning into a fall with high quality remote learning.

Unfortunately, instead of using July and August to prepare educators to deliver high quality remote learning and overcome the technological skill challenges that plagued us this spring, the statewide teachers’ unions issued “demands” to advance their political agenda rather than focus on what students need.

These demands include “a massive infusion” of federal funding without any plan for how that money will be spent to enhance educational offerings. The teachers’ unions also demand an end to common assessments that determine what students need to overcome learning loss or to hold districts accountable if they fail to educate our children. Most recently, the unions are urging their members to refuse to work even in empty classrooms where they can coordinate remote learning with other educators, principals, and school administration to ensure our children are actually getting the educational experience we’ve promised them.

Meanwhile, parents across the state participated in Zoom town halls and collaborative community sessions to help build school reopening plans that included their perspective.

When these community driven plans were presented for a vote at school committee meetings, they were often tabled in favor of union-backed proposals in alignment with a statewide campaign to keep schools closed regardless of the community’s COVID-19 context. The voices of parents and families were drowned out by unions ignoring science.

As the start of the school looms, teachers’ unions and districts are secretly negotiating the terms and conditions of remote learning — with teachers demanding as little as two hours of direct student interaction per week and limited academic instruction in favor of social-emotional “programming” while simultaneously calling for restrictions on the use of ed tech resources to provide students outside support and assistance. All this while threatening to strike or not show up in person or virtually if their demands are not met.

Here we are in the first week of September, and families are still waiting for answers.

Waiting for teacher assignments. Waiting for schedules to determine when their children will be expected on Google Classroom. Waiting to hear how their schedules will be upended (and what that means to their ability to hold a job and put food on the table).

In the meantime, districts threaten to report families to the Department of Children and Families if their child fails to show up for whatever schedule is ultimately decided.

How is any of this helpful to already stressed-out and anxiety ridden families across the Commonwealth? How is any of this good for kids?

Parents and families have serious questions.

What is a school day and classroom schedule going to look like from a student’s perspective?

How often will teachers be expected to log online? Who will be tracking it? What will happen when a teacher doesn’t log-on or show up?

How will student attendance be taken (an especially important topic given threats from DCF and interactions with some teachers that may not occur daily)?

How much live instruction and interaction with teachers will our children receive each day?

If teachers are only expected to deliver 45 minutes of live instruction a few times a week, what will they be doing the rest of the day?

Will elementary grade teachers be expected to check in with each child in their classes each day? What about every other day? Will students have time with their teachers just once a week? How much contact will middle and high school students have with their teachers each day or week?

How often will teachers be expected to check in with parents and family members who are facilitating remote education? Just on a weekly basis or more often?

Why isn’t professional development mandatory to ensure educators have the skills they need to navigate Zoom and Google Classroom?

Who is going to ensure that “time spent on learning” will be upheld so our children will receive more than simple social-emotional check-ins but actual instruction in content areas?

If districts are redirecting resources to remote learning content companies, how can other resources (such as the savings from eliminated bus transportation) be redirected to support parents and community organizations developing their own smaller learning communities to keep kids safe and engaged with school, while allowing parents to continue to work and provide for their families?

Why are some teachers advertising on Facebook their availability to run homeschool pods and private tutoring for as much as $175 per hour during the very same hours they would be expected to be engaged in remote teaching of their students in the public school system?

Parents have spent the last five months playing multiple roles — parent, teacher, therapist, playmate — anything to get their children through this difficult time. And now parents hear union demands for remote teaching a few hours a week, with virtually no focus on actual learning.

Meet the Author

Keri Rodrigues

Founder and CEO, Massachusetts Parents United
When do we start talking about what our children will learn this school year not to mention how, when, and where they will learn it? Parents didn’t waste their summer. How is it already September and we don’t have answers?

Keri Rodrigues is president of the education advocacy group National Parents Union and founder of Massachusetts Parents United. She lives in Somerville with her three sons.