Parents and students make impassioned plea to reopen schools

Student athlete Isabella Fields makes her plea to the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education for a return to play and also a return to in person instruction.

CENTREVILLE — Send students back to school was the resounding message of parents and students alike who spoke during the public comment portion of the Oct. 7 Queen Anne’s County Board of Education meeting. The public was allowed to comment in person, but individuals were allowed into the meeting room only one at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions.

As (COVID-19) numbers continue to improve, let our kids play, said Paul Simonetti. The parent of a student athlete, Simonetti said he was confident students could return to play safely. Fall sports are played primarily outside where the risk is even lower; players have to have a physical; and parents are willing to support transportation to these events, he said.

There was a parks and rec field hockey game played this fall already at Queen Anne’s County High School, Simonetti said, and parents are ready to fundraise to support the kids if money is a factor.

High school senior Isabella Fields wrote a letter to the board and also spoke during the meeting on behalf of fellow student athletes at Queen Anne’s County High School. She said these seasons could be the last time many of them are on the fields together.

“We really want a chance to play and the chance to get back in school,” she said, “We need this way to have fun and reduce stress.”

Fields said she is the type of student who learns better with in-person instruction and has struggled with the virtual classes.

“(It is) due dates that are tough to get to, 45 minutes (of instruction) two days a week and getting a PowerPoint thrown at us, being told to read it, learn it and take a test on it,” she said.

An emotional Nikki Morris of Stevensville, accompanied by her daughter, who is a sophomore at Kent Island High, said “I feel like we don’t have a voice as parents. This is serious. These kids need back to school.”

Morris was just one parent who voiced concerns over inadequate internet.

“Atlantic Broadband does not work for us,” she said, “(I am) begging you to get kids back in school, not just halfway. We can’t keep living out of fear.”

One suggestion to help high school students struggling with the lack of in-person instruction came from Jo Prince of Cloverfields. Prince, who works in another school system, thanked educators and administrators for their dedication in making adjustments and suggested a study hall for high school kids to come into the building for help with Schoology — the platform that QACPS students are using for online instruction. There is a need for human interaction, she said.

More than one parent mentioned being shamed by members of the school system because they didn’t agree with keeping schools closed.

Perhaps that perception is in-part due to concerns of educators themselves. Emotion in her voice, Karen Fields, president Queen Anne’s County Education Association and teacher, said members (94% of the respondents to their member survey) are concerned about returning to school buildings until measures are in place to ensure safest return possible.

“With flu season ahead and a fall season that experts predict will see an in increase in COVID cases …. a hurried and unprepared response to return to school will significantly compromise health and safety of school community,” Fields said.

Concerns included purification systems for the health suites and help for the custodial workers. Fields said she is worried that day and evening custodians will not have enough time to clean and disinfect.

Fields also said she is worried that schools will not have the bandwidth for virtual and in-person learning taking place simultaneously.

Still internet problems are an issue for those at home. Jed Cohen, a seventh-grader from Centreville, voiced his concerns about lack of reliable internet. “I cannot do much from my house. I think we should go back to school because that would mean no more Google Meets. I am definitely an advocate for going back,” he said.

A very frustrated Chris Blanton of Church Hill told the board he had spoken to them last month and received no reply to his concerns. There has been no response to how the school board could help struggling families, he said.

“I was rudely told to go and ask the commissioners for more money, he said. “Shockingly, there are students still waiting on Chromebooks.”

Last month, Blanton said, “I asked if you expect parents to quit their jobs to teach their kids … we are not teachers. We need you to do your jobs.

“Taxpaying voters want their kids to learn so they can flourish and not be left behind,” he continued, ”It must be nice to sit an ivory tower and look at the peasants as they struggle to assist their kids with an education while they try to make ends meet. I guess if I made $170,000 off the taxpayers money I could afford to get extra schooling, but unfortunately I and thousands of other parents cannot.”

Blanton also raised the question of attendance. He said he knows of many students who are not attending or participating in school virtually.

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