By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Three parents, representing others, urged the Westborough School Committee to prioritize grades K-3 school children’s academic and emotional well-being by letting them attend school in-person four days per week.
Speaking during the public comment section of the committee’s Feb. 3 meeting, parent Jill Forbes presented a petition signed by 184 parents of students at Armstrong, Fales and Hastings elementary schools. Forbes, who holds a master’s degree in family therapy, said the children are presenting with lethargy, depression, apathy, anxiety, emotional outbursts and other difficulties as a result of remote learning.
Forbes noted that difficulties with Zoom or technical glitches with apps take a toll on children, causing “disengaging from learning” and “spiraling into emotional breakdowns.”
Acknowledging the stress that teachers are also under and her support for them, she asked that a compromise be reached to bring the youngest kids back to the classroom as safely as possible.
Three of Eileen Halle’s four children are in elementary grades. She said that families are not treated like stakeholders in the educational process and that the administration seems to “disconnect from what we need and deserve.”
She said that alternatives like daycare, babysitters, pods, etc. present more danger to students (being exposed to COVID-19) than the classroom would. Halle noted that Gov. Baker has articulated that students should go back to school in-person.
Halle added, “the status quo is not acceptable.”
Alicia Blazejewski, an emergency physician in Brockton, said that everyone has opinions based on emotions but her job dictates that she uses data to make decisions.
She said that schools are much safer than other areas and Westborough’s low to moderate risks of transmission should not prevent a re-opening.
Blazejewski said it is “unreasonable” to keep students in a hybrid model of learning indefinitely, waiting for vaccinations to be completed.
She noted that students under age 12 are not in the pipeline for the shots for a very long time. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control has said that vaccinations are not a pre-requisite for re-opening, Blazejewski said.
She added that it is time for the children to come first and for the administration to “review and follow data” and follow the example of other districts who have or plan to re-open this year.
Officials respond, acknowledging emotions are high
Assistant Superintendent Daniel Meyer said that he hoped to set the record straight by pointing out that November polling of parents showed “they did not all have an appetite to go back,” at that time.
He said that another survey would go out soon and that the state has had an “upward climb,” of COVID-19 cases and higher rates than in November.
Superintendent Amber Bock said she recognized that emotions are high “across the trajectory,” and knowledge about how the disease functions has also grown.
She said that they value “all parties we serve, not just teachers,” and they would do another survey “to help get a temperature check,” about the prospect of a full return.
The previous evening, she held a virtual Town Hall answering questions and speaking about the school district and the pandemic. It can be found here.
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