Parents of school-age children in Rochester are growing impatient with both the pandemic and the school district's response to it.
The district canceled in-person teaching nearly 10 months ago. The district has since moved students in kindergarten through second grade into a hybrid model, in which the week is divided between distance and in-person learning. Grades 3-5 will make the shift to hybrid in two weeks. The board talks about moving middle- and high-school students back to in-person learning in February.
But parents say they can't wait that long, that distance learning doesn't work, and that their children are falling further and further behind. Parents also claim that the district has not been responsive to their concerns.
"They don't know that it's not working," Sara Clausen, a Rochester parent told Post Bulletin reporter Matt Stolle. "The only way our kids are going to be able to learn is in the classroom."
Parent Patricio Gargollo started an online petition at the start of the new year. The petition, with the heading “Rochester Public School Proposed ‘Return to School Plan’ is Unacceptable,” gained nearly 1,000 signatures in one week.
In addition to academic performance, there are mental health considerations associated with distance learning.
In a guest column for the Post Bulletin, Dr. Patricia Price, a Rochester psychologist, called distance learning a "crisis situation."
"The tolls of social isolation are well-defined, serious, and long-lasting," she writes. "Decades of research have given us a clear understanding that inadequate social interaction can lead to permanent changes in the structure of the brain."
Clausen said a group of parents had planned to hold a peaceful protest outside the school district's administration building last week, but board Chairwoman Jean Marvin persuaded the parents to call off the protest and hold a Zoom session instead.
Parents, Clausen said, thought the board was giving them an opportunity to speak. But the parents' microphones were kept on mute.
"People were just irate," she said. "It was a slap in the face to all parents."
A day later, Rochester Catholic Schools announced it was moving Lourdes High School students to in-person learning starting Feb. 1. RCS elementary and middle school campuses already offer in-person learning.
"We remain committed to providing in-person learning as much as possible while holding the health and well-being of our community at the forefront," John Wald, co-chairman of the RCS Board, said in a statement.
We recognize that the Rochester School District is a big ship and takes a lot of time to change course, but Rochester School Board members need to remember to keep parents informed and involved. The crowds outside the Edison Building are growing. Their concerns should be heard, not muted.