BELOIT — Students, family members and Beloit School District staff spoke out during Sunday’s public hearing on school reopening plans, voicing differing opinions on whether to offer an in-person hybrid model of learning for fourth term.
While most parents spoke in favor of reopening, some staff raised concerns about the numbers of non-vaccinated staff members in schools and the relatively low number of days students would be in the classroom before the end of the school year.
The board will make a decision on Tuesday on its general reopening for term 4, which would begin in early April. In July, the school board voted to have virtual/distance learning for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, later extended to Jan. 22.
Under the current proposed reopening model, students would be split into a group A coming to school in the first half of week, with Wednesday being designated as a professional development day, and group B coming in the second half of the week. Kids remaining in distance learning could participate in classroom instruction from home.
Beloit Education Association (BEA) President Tim Vedra kicked off the hearing, saying the major obstacle to reopening is lack of vaccinations for staff who have been unable to receive them. On the first round on Jan. 27, he said the Department of Health Services cut off vaccinations saying they were being given to educators and school employees out of order.
Vedra said the BEA asks that employees be given top priority by the district and urged the district to pursue every possible avenue to secure vaccines for the employees so staff has confidence to return to the classroom.
Vedra said COVID-19 is still present in the community, a fact which can’t be ignored. Variants of the coronavirus have been identified and are proving to spread more easily and have caused higher mortality than the original strains, Vedra said.
Vedra said the BEA also requests strict metrics be established and based on case count per 100,000 and the seven-day test positivity rate. These metrics, he said, will set the standard for immediate return to distance learning should a spike in COVID-19 cases occur in Rock County.
The focus, Vedra said, still needs to be on securing vaccinations for all staff before students return, careful planning of procedures and establishing strict metrics if the new wave of COVID-19 occurs.
4K Teacher Sandra Mitchell sent an email to be read by Board Secretary Michelle Shope. Mitchell said many parents who want kids back to school say they miss socializing and play. However, she said parents might not understand the proposed plan will do little to socialize children, especially younger ones. They will be separated from each other, play by themselves, won’t share toys and will be separated when eating meals.
Children who have been home for the past year would spend 7.5 hours two days a week learning to behave in school. They would only be in school for a total of only 17 days before the end of the school year, and would have to learn a whole new routine during two days a week of in-person learning, Mitchell’s email stated.
Shope read an email from paraeducator Cheryl Blay who said having children return before all staff with student contact have received both doses of vaccination is unsafe for staff and children. She said she is age 65, has asthma and has not gotten an appointment for her first vaccine dose. She asked that the district not endanger employees, their families, their students, and their students’ families by sending the children back before term 4 and before everyone has had an opportunity to receive both doses of vaccine.
Parent Nancy Austin sent an email saying kids need to be back in school. She said she and her husband both work full-time. She and her husband often spend all evening trying to help with homework, noting some of the assignments are extremely difficult to understand. She said parents should have been given a choice. She said other districts outside Beloit are open for in-person learning.
A grandparent emailed that many parents work all day and have to do work with children all evening when the kids and their parents are tired. Third shift working parents have even more problems. She said there are times parents don’t understand assignments.
Migdalia Rodriquez, a parent, emailed her concerns about the ventilation at the various schools and the number of kids per classroom She also said the amount of assignments her kids receive is outrageous, and many kids need some sort of counseling or support during the pandemic.
Parent Michelle Ramirez said kids need to get back to school, even if only for a few days at a time. She said other schools are making it work.
Beloit Memorial High School teacher Matt Flynn said with vaccinations rising and more data available he is in support of in-person learning.
A mother of three children said it’s difficult to have multiple children in virtual school. If her children don’t get back to school soon, she said she plans on her kids being held back this year.