James Owens was among the parents and students on Monday rallying for some in-school options. North Adams schools will begin remotely.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The crowd was small but the support was loud for returning students to school in some fashion.
Barely a dozen parents and students stood out on the lawn of City Hall with signs saying "Kids Need Teachers," "Our Education Our Choice" to the honks and horns of motorists passing by late Monday afternoon.
The school administration had presented a hybrid model of education to start the year that would see students in the buildings about half time to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The School Committee, however, voted last week to go full remote learning with the anticipation that a hybrid model could later be phased in.
"We can we can start with hybrid. I feel like the kids need to get back, they need the classroom, they need the interaction, they need to see face to face with their teachers," said Laurie Booth, whose daughter Katie is entering her senior year at Drury High. "I think it's just better for everybody. They just want to go to school and I think you should give them that opportunity."
More than 60 percent responses made out by parents to a survey from the school district had indicated they would support a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. That represented about two-thirds of students enrolled in the district.
School Committee members voting against the hybrid model had expressed concerns over COVID-19's effect on students and teachers, citing a letter from the North Adams Teachers Association advocating for remote learning.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on educators' abilities interact with students since the abrupt shutdown of Massachusetts schools in March. A Kansas high school teacher has so far tracked 700 schools impacted by COVID-19; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has closed just one week in after 130 students tested positive and a number of schools across the country that reopened have had to close when the virus spread.
On the other hand, Massachusetts has one of the lowest seven-day positive averages and Berkshire County's is at 0.6 percent, compared to rates of 10 percent to 20 percent in other parts of the country. The state Departments of Public Health and Education have said regions with rates as low as the Berkshires should be considering some form of in-person schooling.
Stephanie Tatro said her 12-year-old daughter Natalie was very upset when she learned she would have to continue remote learning because she needed that face-to-face contact with her teacher.
"My daughter was an honor student and I saw this spring, she would barely come out of her room," Tatro said. "People think it's about the socializing events. That's one of the many minute things. This is about the fact that children want the teacher right there. ...
"I love that with the hybrid model, when they go to remote the next couple of days, it will help them transition because they already have the guidance from the teacher."
Tatro said she attended one of the remote presentations on the three options being considered — full in-person, hybrid and remote — and felt comfortable after hearing how the hybrid model would work.
"They had a remote option for her children for parents that didn't feel comfortable sending the kids to school. So it gave the best of both worlds to me," she said.
James Owens and Laura Ephraim, both with backgrounds in education, have two children at Colegrove Park Elementary School. They, too, felt the schools should at least reopen partially as long as it was safe for staff and students. Owens said he was strong supporter of unions, including teachers' unions, and thought there was common ground for parents and teachers.
"I'm hoping to see more teachers out here because we have a common interest and that is safe, high quality, public education," said Owens. "We lose when it switches to all remote and we don't have all the supports necessary for parents to be able to take on those labors of teaching. ...
"You can't have a situation where in order to have safe schools, parents wind up losing fiscal stability. It's not a safe situation when kids risk becoming homeless because parents have to give up jobs."
Ephraim said she would have liked to see more detail on the hybrid model and greater participation by stakeholders — and more time taken for parents to wrap their heads around the complexities.
"I think parents need to be more involved in hashing through those details with school leadership," she said. "I think there needs to be more of a dialogue among teachers and parents and administrators, so that we can figure out if there's a hybrid model that works and what does not."
Three Drury High students stood out on their own on Friday afternoon and two were back again on Monday.
"It makes me angry," junior Timothy Brazeau said Friday on the lawn of City Hall. "I can't learn online. It is my education, not theirs."
Brazeau was missing on Monday but seniors Katie Booth and Tatyiana Ross returned to hold signs. Their reasoning was that remote learning wasn't the same as being in school and they felt they were missing out on robust education. And they all had said many of their classmates felt the same way.
"We want to go back to school," Booth said on Friday. "... I think we have to go back; we have already spent so much time online in the spring."
Booth said remote learning simply isn't as effective as the real thing and already feels as though learning has been lost.
"I feel like I have learned nothing from the time we have stopped going to school," Booth said. "You just go through the motions, watch an online video, and that is your assignment for the day. I don't think we are benefiting at all."
"It's hard to even ask questions," she said. "In the classroom, you can get help whenever you want."
Booth urged the School Committee to reconsider its decision.
"I feel like there are students that want to go back and parents who want their students back then I think they should be allowed to," said Katie's mom. "And I also think that if there are parents who are a little apprehensive about it, then there is that option to stay remote."
Tatro said the group has been communicating with each other as well as with city and school officials. Other essential services have been opened — stores, businesses, pediatricians and day cares — and are operating with precautions in place, she said.
"We're all scared, too, but we're working and we're making it work," she said. "They are a critical part of our society. We need to take care of them just as much as they need to take care of us.