MSDLT must adopt a 100% virtual environment
MSDLT must adopt a 100% virtual environment
As of August 1st, 2020, in Marion County, there are 135 new cases of COVID-19 with an 8.6% 7-day average positivity rate (9.6% rate on 7/26/20 alone). This falls well above the threshold of 5% positivity rate indicating “virus is managed” by the World Health Organization. On March 13, 2020, the day in-person schooling in Lawrence Township was abruptly canceled – there was one documented case of COVID-19 in Marion County.
Given this data alone, this group of parents argues that the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township should not resume any in-person option beginning on August 13.
We recognize the obstacles that accompany a 100% virtual environment, including:
- Online learning is a challenging fit for the K-2 student population both because of content and because of the burden on parents to assist in the learning process. Even third – fifth graders are not fully independent learners, nor can they stay home alone day in a day out, week after week.
- The challenge of unequal connectivity throughout the district.
- We have a large percentage of students who rely on school for hot meals and a safe environment conducive to learning.
- The inability for some more sophisticated classes – group music, labs and project-based learning common to MCIT, to translate to an online format.
However, the real threat of allowing COVID-19 to spread unfettered and the unpredictable nature of the health consequences to those who are diagnosed with the virus must trump these obstacles. Without health, we cannot problem-solve any of these valid challenges.
As parents, we are aware that teachers are fearful about their risks. In fact, the Lawrence Education Association also is requesting a 100% virtual start to the school year. Teachers do not feel that adequate precautions are being made, including access to cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and most importantly the ability to social distance students from each other and from them.
We are aware that the district has 10 buildings under construction, which further limits the ability of teachers and building administrators to appropriately social distance students. Even when the schools were not under construction, there are limited sinks for proper hand hygiene. In the video piece that aired from Skiles Test which featured social distancing efforts that were enacted, sink capacity was actually reduced as center sinks were marked out.
At Amy Beverland on July 23rd, there were still as many as 26 students scheduled to come to school in one classroom. In a 900 square foot classroom, approximately 15 students can be appropriately spaced with the use of plexiglass barriers, according to architects Fanning and Howey who specialize in school construction. https://fhai.com/insights/6-classroom-layouts-to-maintain-social-distancing/ Although the middle and high schools are on a hybrid schedule, reducing the population to 50% -- this is still 1200 students at the high schools.
Teachers are asking for help procuring needed cleaning supplies, as they have not yet received confirmation about what specifically the school will be supplying for them to use. Some have been told that there will not be any additional custodial duties provided.
Resources are indeed limited. Our district’s most valuable resource is our teacher and their expertise, energy and ingenuity. Many teachers, including those with decades of experience, cannot visualize how maintaining a virtual and an in-person environment simultaneously will work. These same teachers cannot articulate to parents how safety will be the number one priority as students ride the bus, enter and exit school, move through the hallways, access restrooms and operate 8-3 within the classroom (at the current in-person headcounts).
Additionally, as parents, we have repeatedly asked for very specific protocol around what happens when a teacher is asked to quarantine. In the past, due to limited substitute resources in the best of times, classes have had to split into other classrooms. What does our substitute reserve look like? Do we have a core group at each school ready for when the teacher calls in sick that very morning? In Elwood IN, one school already has had to close because one teacher was diagnosed with COVID-19, and other educators within his/her bubble were required to quarantine as well.
The reality is our teacher resources start out limited. The District has 43 employment openings, from lunchroom to assistants to certified staff in at least 8 buildings.
As parents, our first priority is our children’s health. Their education comes second with their social needs a very close behind. However, an important part of our children’s health is their mental health and a key component of mental health is predictability. The in-person education as described in the district’s opening plan is simply not sustainable. Students who are coming to school in-person on Monday cannot be assured that they will still be coming to school in-person on Friday. This level of unpredictability sets students into a state of hyper-arousal, which makes learning difficult.
The only sustainable and predictable route is to fully endorse a virtual educational experience until we have had 14 consecutive days of below 5% positivity rate in Marion County,
We parents believe in the talent of Lawrence Township to make a virtual experience the best, most robust experience it can be. We believe in our district’s ability to focus all of its resources into one stream, working to partner with our community to create Connection Campuses for our most vulnerable students.
We are desperate for brave leadership. There is no path forward that will please all the stakeholders in this community. However, we come supportive of the teachers who are requesting for this bold decision to be made to prioritize health and safety above all else.