And… They’re Going… Maybe… Sorta

Finally, the school committee voted, on a new plan that was just proposed and wasn’t even discussed last week. One person abstained. Seriously, why be on the school council if you can’t own up to making a vote on such a hard choice. If you think it’s hard and messy right now, imagine being one of the parents who have to make some very difficult decisions right now. Yes, it’s a mess, but votes matter to constituents.

The new plan is a modified phased in approach, where the vocational students, vulnerable students, and those with IEPs/special needs attend school on the first day. Then 3 weeks later, they phase the next group of kids. Then the keep phasing kids in every 3 weeks until finally all the kids can be in school together. All of the kids in the schools together, while there’s a pandemic going on, right in time for flu season to hit. Then we get to play the fun game of “Is it COVID or Is It the Flu?” I do love a good mystery game…

What do I like? I could send my youngest, who receives services, to school and know that there won’t be as many kids. Maybe even less than 20 in the entire school, and it would be less risky for him and myself. Since he doesn’t really see his grandparents, because of you know… a pandemic, it’s only me that I have to worry about dying. Also, that means I get rid of my kid finally after having him 24/7 for what feels like a century. If you knew my precious little Loki, you’d get it.

There, I mentioned everything I like about the plan. One of the arguments is sending the kids for their social and emotional development. So my kid, being in a room potentially alone with a single teacher (because apparently the fine details aren’t important or something), isn’t getting that development from interacting with peers. Because he’ll have no peers. If they do intermix classrooms, how would that work of they separate the kids? How do you argue that they need to form a relationship with the teachers if that may not even be their teacher when full face to face opens?

Then, there are the high schoolers. They didn’t even have a plan out for the seniors returning to school. Are they just not returning? When they do return, what does the cohort system look like for them? Does my son still get AP classes? Will he have to suffer in classes he didn’t want rather than those he was really excited about, like his forensic case studies class? How are they going to ensure that the buses aren’t overloaded? Is the attendance policy voided for the year due to the circumstances, or are we going to have to pay hundreds of dollars in medical bills (if we’re lucky) every time our kid has a cough so they can be cleared for school?

As parents, I think we deserve more than “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there”. I definitely think that we deserve more than what we’ve seen on this school council to the point that I think we need to really reconsider the people who serve us. I think that if I had the funds, popularity, or even anything that I think would be a good quality in a school council member, I would run because I think I would do better. I think that you shouldn’t be able to abstain because you’re angry or because you’re too scared to vote either way. I think you should push for exact details before voting on a plan. If not to make an informed decision, to at least get details so the people your plans actually impact can know what to expect or what to do next. I think that you shouldn’t be as confused, or more confused, than your constituents who are watching the meeting. And I especially don’t think that you should make things even more confusing for us.

I understand the importance of being in school for kids. I understand being a working parent who doesn’t particularly like the idea of remote learning, because working from home while being a teacher is hard. Yes, I’m fortunate I do work from home and can accommodate the remote plan while others can’t. But I also can’t say I have any faith at all that my children will be safe going back to school, especially since I have more questions than answers. And honestly, the fact that so many people don’t actually know what the decision was even after watching that meeting shows just how awful the whole situation is. If we didn’t understand what’s going on, it’s the fault of those people in charge.

So what’s my plan? I guess I’ll find out when they can tell me what their plan is because I have no idea what’s going on. Or hope that the Governor scraps it and calls it a day because some school districts can’t get their stuff together.

We Look Towards Our Leadership… And They Failed

We trust our school council with the lives of our children. Our children, the most precious things in a parent’s life. These are the people who we are entrusting right now to make an informed decision on what’s best for the education of our children during these uncertain times. Sure… we have an option of remote learning no matter what they decide, but that’s not the point. The point is: why weren’t they better prepared?

The schools should have been working on a plan since March to come up with all of these “what ifs”. What if this virus gets worse? What if it’s still a major issue come fall? How do we do a great remote learning plan in case we need it? How long do we offer remote learning? Will we open school in phases, like the state did? There are so many questions I have. What if my senior in high school gets exposed one time, then needs to quarantine for 14 days? He can only miss 16 days for the entire school year, so what happens if he gets sick or has to quarantine for another 14 days? Are they getting rid of the attendance rules? My youngest has anxiety attacks. Are we going to put him in a “sick room” with another kid who might have the virus because he’s showing symptoms, so he can get infected? What if he has an anxiety attack and tears off his mask because he’s hyperventilating? These are real concerns and I’m not unique in struggling with them.

The meeting had flawed statistics. Of course the remote learning wasn’t successful. Half the time the sites were down and the teachers were completely unprepared and were thrown into this remote learning plan without any real experience with it. How can you say that you can’t really measure attendance and the success of remote learning and then show charts of how unsuccessful it was? Great, there haven’t been many cases of kids getting sick in Chicopee… because parents have been smart about protecting their kids. My kids also didn’t get a bad flu like they normally would during the early spring because they weren’t in school either. The original basis for the recommendations for face to face learning are flawed to begin with. But we’ll stick with the flawed recommendations because…. why not?

Maybe we should listen to our teachers. You know, those people who are severely underpaid for what we expect of them and under-appreciated who are tasked with educating our children for 180 days a year. Maybe we should take their concerns, being on the front lines and all, and listen to what they think is best for our kids. They’re the ones in the schools. They are the ones we are asking to risk their lives for our children. Maybe they should have more of an impact on this decision.

At the meeting, it seemed like the representatives were unprepared. I sat through this 2 1/2 hour meeting for answers, because I wanted to be prepared. So I could make the best decision for my children. So I could be prepared. I looked to the school council to help me be prepared. I looked to them, the people that we as citizens of this city voted in, to give us answers so that we knew what we were going to do as a family for our kids. And these leaders and our mayor failed us.

Some members of the council, including my ward 7 councilman, asked great questions. What about lunchtime in the high schools? The representative from one of the high schools stated the precautions they were going to take. My son laughed. “I can barely get lunch some days because the cafeteria has no room for us. How do they think we’re going to accomplish 6ft. distance?” He’s right. My kid gets it. Why don’t they?

It started out to be a reasonable discussion with the school council giving their comments, until the Ward 1 councilor passionately spoke on the subject. Which led to a heated… tantrum. Which led to a postponement of the vote. For a week. Us parents need to wait anxiously for another week when they should have been better prepared. They should have had a better plan. The meeting was a failure. It was embarrassing as a resident of the city to see things turn ugly like that. It was frustrating to sit for nearly 3 hours to get answers, to get nothing but watching grown adults shout at each other. It was awful to realize that we have trusted these people to make these decisions and they couldn’t do it. Instead we get a “Well, let’s do remote learning until Springfield starts their hybrid approach to see if it’s safe enough for our students”. What? Let’s see how those sacrificial lambs do in the next city over to see what we’re going to do? Insane.

At this point, I’m not sure why I’m more afraid to send my kids back to school. Is it because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away? Or is it because these representatives of our city are the people making the decisions that directly impact my kids?