Parents Are Petitioning Their School Districts for Better COVID-19 School Safety Plans

Around the country, parents are asking districts to give students the option of virtual learning, and some are asking to maintain an entirely remote model for the 2020-2021 school year.

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In the last year, parents, students, and educators all have had to adjust rapidly to virtual learning through the COVID-19 pandemic. In all but two states, officials closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. (In Montana and Wyoming, officials closed schools to in-person instruction but later allowed them to reopen.) Now, with the 2020-2021 academic year on the horizon, individual districts across the U.S. are releasing their plans for reopening, but educators and parents are struggling to get on the same page.

In fact, parents across the country are petitioning their local districts to come up with safer plans to resume learning, which would allow at least the option of continued 100 percent virtual learning for all students.

What Parents & Teachers Around the Country Are Asking For

A mom named Courtney Fox in Arlington, Virginia created a petition urging Arlington Public Schools (APS) to abandon their model for splitting the school system between a hybrid track and a full-time virtual track.

According to the APS website, the hybrid model involves students "attending school in-person on two consecutive days each week, and engage in self-directed, asynchronous distance learning on the other three days." Their full-time virtual track is currently only "available for students in high-risk health categories or who are not comfortable returning to school in-person."

That's why Fox is proposing a model where all students would have the option of learning virtually.

"Students who attend in person—conceivably 4 days per week, as Mondays will be for teachers to plan—will receive the same online instruction as those at home, but the teachers present will be there to provide clarification, support and, as indicated, interventions," explained Fox. "When public health officials deem conditions safe to reopen, survey teachers to see who is comfortable returning to school for in-person support. No teacher will be forced into this option."

This model, Fox says, will "protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff; will not force teachers into options that might precipitate mass resignation; and support our most vulnerable learners."

Nearly 2,000 parents have signed Fox's petition.

In Florida, Dave Finnigan is asking, via a petition, for Governor Ron DeSantis to "keep Florida school buildings closed through fall semester 2020. Shift all students to remote instruction." Finnigan writes, "There is no way to keep students, teachers, staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers safe if they report to school buildings. Until there is 100 percent assurance that children will not bring COVID-19 home from school, no school buildings should reopen in Florida." So far, he's collected over 61K signatures.

On the flip-side, some parents are petitioning districts to go back to full-time in-person instruction. Alice Marrs' petition, which has over 61K signatures, argues against Ohio's proposed "mixed" school days, which Marrs writes "will not only put undo hardship on parents financially as many will have to send their children to day care in lieu of school." And in California, parents whose kids go to the Oceanside Unified School District signed a petition calling on the board to at least consider an in-person instruction model.

Changes Are Already Being Made

As the issue continues to be contentious, many districts and authorities are striving to do what's best for children's mental and physical health by leaning into plans that focus on virtual learning.

For instance, California's Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts, two of the largest in the country, might be paving the way for the rest of the state and even other parts of the country. Both will abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August, reports The New York Times. The California Teachers' Association, which wants to see the call made statewide, sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and other lawmakers that reads, "It is clear that communities and school districts have not come close to meeting the threshold for a safe return to in-person learning, even under a hybrid model."

And despite originally stating that they "strongly" advocated for kids being in classrooms, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new statement on July 10, explaining that "returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools... We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it."

Here's hoping that mentality becomes the driving force behind all districts' back-to-school game plans this fall.

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