BOSTON — The state’s education commissioner has been given the authority to bring elementary school students back to classrooms for all in-person learning, but so far, no timetable has been given for when middle and high school students will return. For now, it’s up to individual districts to make those decisions.
So parents at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School are planning a rally Wednesday to push for more in-person learning. Right now, high school students in the regional school district attend school two half-days a week, for a total of six hours of weekly in-person learning.
If a new proposal just introduced by the high school’s superintendent and principal, Bella Wong, is approved, students will attend school in-person for four half-days per week. Afternoons and Wednesdays would still be remote-learning.
“These kids want to be in school. Parents want their kids in school, not because we don’t love having our kids home - I’m cherishing this extra time with my kid, but my child needs this [to return to school]. He needs to prepare to be an adult in order to go to college,” said Cara Cohen, the mom of a Lincoln-Sudbury sophomore and a special needs educational advocate.
About 300 Lincoln-Sudbury parents have formed a group calling for Jeffrey C. Riley, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, to get involved and force high schools back to full-time in-person learning, similar to elementary students. They say the district’s latest proposal is just a bandage. The group is worried about the mental health toll on students and says with teachers now eligible for vaccines and PCR testing at school, there’s no reason to delay a return to school for older students.
Wong said one reason Lincoln-Sudbury has been slower to bring back older students is they had a spike of 30 high school students test positive last month. Parents say the transmissions did not take place in school. At the beginning of the school year, a house party led the district to delay the start of in-person learning.
“Our number of direct instruction hours is above the median... which is defined as either in-person hours or synchronous remote learning,” said Wong.
But one final straw for parents was when Lincoln-Sudbury School Committee member Harold Engstrom seemed to suggest during a virtual school committee meeting last week that the mental health toll on kids isn’t a good enough argument for him to bring kids back.
“I don’t think it’s the public school’s responsibility to deal with mental health issues, however, we want to help as much as possible,” Engstrom said during the meeting.
Engstrom has since apologized, writing on the Patch website: “As a parent of a child who missed all of her senior year rites of passage last year... I understand just how disappointing this is... However, I don’t see this kind of disappointment as falling into the category of a real mental health problem.”
Cohen disagrees. “The socialization reason is huge,” she said, “these kids are not in school they’re not having that camaraderie with friends, they’re not having the social engagement - that social interaction that you get with the face-to-face.”.
The school district surveyed parents in December and said 60% of parents favored a return to in-person learning, while 70% of students favored keeping the schedule as is. Wong says when they analyzed the data, it showed students and parents agreed students learned best during at-home days.
The rally, set for Wednesday afternoon, starts at the high school and parents will then march to the town center.
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