After two previously painful stints of remote learning, some Poudre School District parents are concerned about what the next few weeks of remote learning will mean for their children.
Poudre School District made the decision to shift all classes to remote learning after fall break through at least the end of winter break, citing the “alarming rate” at which COVID-19 cases are increasing in Larimer County.
The district first shifted to remote learning in March when the coronavirus began spreading in Colorado. The 2020-21 school year also started remotely, with classes briefly shifting to a hybrid learning model for some in-person learning in early October.
Remote learning didn’t work for Kelly Holdridge’s two elementary-aged sons, and she doesn’t see what will be different this time as the district enters remote learning for the third time.
Holdridge said it took awhile for her sons to get used to learning remotely and the shift to hybrid learning presented a whole new set of challenges.
During hybrid learning, Holdridge said her younger son would get easily frustrated with his school work on remote days with no way to ask his teacher for help. Her older son would finish his work in about an hour and spend the rest of the day just sitting around, she said.
“It’s hurting my children almost more than the virus itself,” Holdridge said.
Holdridge said she’s lucky she’s already able to stay home with her kids, but she knows other families who aren’t as lucky. Some people she knows have had to use vacation time to miss work in order to help their kids with remote learning. Some parents have also told her they’ve given up because their kids refuse to participate in any remote learning.
Crystal Derschon wrote to the PSD Board of Education to express her frustration with the district’s decision after they’ve repeatedly told families in district-wide emails that there is a low transmission rate of the virus in schools and that private gatherings are largely what’s driving the surge in cases.
“I agree with this statement. Yet, you closed your schools,” Derschon wrote.
A single mother with a middle school-aged child, Derschon told the Coloradoan it’s been very frustrating trying to manage learning from home. She said she’s fortunate to be able to work from home, but trying to manage her work while also keeping her daughter on track and engaged in classes has been challenging.
“She needs to not be isolated and alone, she needs to be in school,” Derschon said.
Hybrid learning provided some relief, and she said her daughter did better with some in-person instruction, but she fears what this shift back to remote learning could mean for her daughter’s education and wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of all the students in the district.
“I was frustrated in August, but we felt like we needed to accept it,” Derschon said. “This is not OK, we’re not OK and we’re not just going to keep accepting it.”
Hilary Holmes said its a full-time job getting her four children to participate in remote learning. She hoped to go back to work this fall, but decided to stay home to support her kids in remote learning.
Schools are a safe, controlled environment for students, which is proven by the fact there is little disease transmission traced back to classrooms, Holmes said. Remote and hybrid learning gives students more free time, making it easier for them to be out socializing without supervision.
“I think its more detrimental to my children to have them home,” Holmes said.
Frustrations increase as public health guidance shifts
During a news conference Nov. 17, Gov. Jared Polis introduced additional public health guidance for counties on what restrictions would be put in place depending on the risk of COVID-19 in the community. Previous guidance recommended shifting schools to all remote learning if a county reached a certain risk level, but the guidance released Nov. 17 recommends schools continue to offer an in-person learning option no matter what risk level a county is assessed at, especially for K-5 students.
At the time of PSD’s decision to shift back to remote learning, the public health guidance recommended remote learning for Larimer County schools, according to the district.
Since the governor’s announcement, many parents — including Holdridge and Derschon — have written to the Board of Education and Superintendent Sandra Smyser to express their frustrations.
“After these recent statements from the Governor and knowing the health department isn’t requiring schools be shut down, we implore you to reconsider your decision to close all schools,” Holdridge wrote in her email to Smyser, the Board of Education directors, the Larimer County Commissioners and the Coloradoan.
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Smyser responded, saying that positive and probable COVID-19 cases in the schools have forced many staff members to quarantine, leaving not enough staff for some schools to operate.
“Please know that like you, we believe students learn better in person,” Smyser said in her email response. “We remain hopeful that this reset, along with everyone in the community doing their part to control the spread of the virus, will allow us to return to in person learning in January.”
In addition to staffing challenges, the decision to shift to remote learning was made to provide more continuity in learning instead of having large groups of staff and students in and out of quarantines, according to a statement on the district’s website posted in response to the governor’s comments.
“Amid an alarming deterioration of county and state health conditions, it is our duty to respond to the pandemic in a way that prioritizes the delivery of quality education, as well as health and safety,” the district said in a statement to the Coloradoan. “Those are difficult priorities to balance.”
In the statement, the district acknowledged “this year has been heartbreaking, mentally and physically exhausting, chaotic and constantly changing and unlike any other we have experienced in recent human history,” and that it has been “incredibly challenging for our students, families, staff and greater community members.”
“Family and community partnerships have been more vital and instrumental than ever before,” the district said in its statement to the Coloradoan. “Parents and other caregivers have our heartfelt appreciation for balancing work and education at home, learning new systems, supporting their students and so much more.”
The district plans to monitor state and local health conditions into December before making a decision about how education will be delivered after winter break. Classes are set to resume Jan. 5.
Rally in support of in-person learning
Holdridge is one of the parents leading the charge against the district’s decision to return to remote learning and is instead asking for at least some level of in-person learning to resume immediately.
Holdridge has organized a rally in support of in-person learning outside the building where the Board of Education meeting will be held Tuesday. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the public is not able to attend the meetings in person but can watch a livestream of the meeting online. Holdridge said the group will gather outside the building before the meeting starts so the directors and other district staff can see them as they walk in.
As of Sunday, Holdridge said organizers planned to continue with the rally despite Larimer County’s new, stricter COVID-19 restrictions going into effect Tuesday evening. The group will wear masks and remain socially distant, she said.
The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the rally beginning at 5 p.m. outside 2407 Laporte Ave. Some parents have also signed up to speak about this during the meeting’s community comment time. People can sign up to speak at the meeting at surveymonkey.com/r/BoardofEducationNovember24.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, K-12 education and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.