A group of parents from the Brownsville Area School District formed a focus group with a shared purpose of bettering education, but shared differing views on how to return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we’re setting in stage today is going to have an impact on our community for years to come,” said Todd Eury, who organized the meeting at his Daily Grind Offices in Hiller. “There’s absolutely no excuse that our school district shouldn’t be the crown jewel in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.”
The key discussion point was whether and how children should return to in-person classes in the fall. High school parents in attendance said they want their students to go back, discussing depression they saw appear in their children during the quarantine. They also said starting the school year online, with teachers who have never met their students, would be detrimental to their education, and discussed widespread internet access problems in the district. Elementary parents said they had concerns about their children going back to school.
While school officials are still defining their plans for the coming school year, their intention is to begin with a “scaffolded return” to school, with kindergarten through 6th Grade students beginning the year in person four days a week, and 7th through 12th grade students beginning the year online. All students would learn online on Fridays while the school is cleaned. Parents who do not feel comfortable sending elementary students back to school can have their children learn online.
Superintendent Dr. Keith Hartbauer said he based their plan on studies that show in-person education is most critical for young students. The students’ classes would be spread among the three buildings for social distancing. At the end of the semester, the situation would be reassessed, with hopes of returning all students to school in the spring.
Thirteen parents attended the meeting, and 75 watched on Facebook Live. Eury cited data from the American Pediatrics Association, which says COVID-19 transmission among children appears to be low. Their recommendation advised caution and to make decisions based on the specific circumstances in a school district, but strongly encouraged schools to “start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Eury, who has a child entering 3rd grade, said he wants students to go back to school.
“I think the risks far outweigh the consequences of not sending our children back to school, and the impact that it has on them in, not only their education with the absolutely wonderful teachers we have here at Brownsville, but also their interaction with each other. I know my children, both of them in Brownsville school district were depressed, and really didn’t get much out of their cyber and online schooling,” he said.
Tanesha Reed, who has a son with asthma, said she is uncomfortable sending her children back.
“COVID-19 is not a joke. It’s serious. You have people dying – young, old,” she said. “I would rather they wait a little bit. Just wait a little bit.”
Reed’s son is entering 6th grade, and she also has a 2-year-old at home, along with a niece entering 7th grade. She said she was able to work from home in the shutdown, and hoped she would be able to continue. She recognized challenges parents face when they must work out of the house and cannot send their children to school.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about our kids’ safety,” she said.
Anita Lincoski, who has a student entering 10th grade, and Lori Bednar, who has a daughter entering 9th grade, both said they saw their children become depressed due to a lack of social interaction. Bednar said her daughter now seems to be overcoming it and socializing, while Lincoski said now her son does not want to leave the house. They acknowledged the issue is monumental and that teachers did their best, but said online education was ineffective and harmful to mental health.
“My son and his friends basically taught themselves. They have to come up with a better solution to that, because they did not do well with it at all,” Lincoski said. “He needs interaction with kids.”
Wendi Landman, who cares for her 5-year-old grandson entering kindergarten, said she kept him at home throughout the pandemic for his safety until earlier that day.
“Today, we realized, it doesn’t look like this is going to end,” she said.
They made a quick trip to the grocery store, and she was briefly able to convince him that wearing a mask made him look like a ninja.
“It was cool for maybe 30 minutes,” she said, but then he wouldn’t wear it anymore, and they went home. If he did not have to wear a mask at school, she said she would send him back to classes.
“You can’t just go home from school like you can the grocery store,” she said.