A parent group has asked the community to sign a petition requesting specific information regarding the current status of our district and the ability to bring kids back into the classroom. The petition reads as follows:

Our community of parents, children, and property owners are suffering from the extended and under prepared school closings of our district. Please join us  to show our solidarity on Monday, September 21, at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education meeting located at the Jefferson Township High School, 1010 Weldon Road in Oak Ridge.

PLEASE ADHERE TO CURRENT SOCIAL DISTANCING AND MASK GUIDELINES

We are asking for the following information:

  • Transparency – above all else.
  • Detailed explanation (status of PPE, teachers, nurses, air quality etc.) to why our schools are not able to open.
  • If a certain school is able to open safely, in accordance with local laws and has the necessary amount of teachers etc., is this a possibility? If not, why?
  • What is being done – if anything- to upgrade our technology infrastructure in order to facilitate an effective online learning experience for all students and teachers?
  • Concrete information and detailed timeline as to why the construction at multiple schools (Cozy Lake, Stanlick etc,) that was to be completed over the summer, has not been.
  • The referendum approved in October 2018 allotted an additional 9.9 million dollars to upgrade our schools. What is the precise status of such upgrades and what is the current dollar amount left in the budget?
  • What is the exact reason for the cut in state aid? If due to enrollment, what is the percentage of decline and what is being done to bring students back in district?
  • What is the district doing to bring in additional revenue without impacting the residents? What state grants ( Expanding Access to Computer Science High School Courses, Minority Teacher Development Grant, Expanding Access to Computer Science Professional Learning, etc.) has the district applied for and what was the outcome?

We refuse to believe the current rhetoric of “our hands are tied, we do not have enough teachers.”  As parents and property owners, we do not feel as if “we are in this together” nor are we your partners in our education system. We feel as if we have been overlooked and pushed aside for what seems “easier” to the administration- which is actually 100 times more difficult for our teachers and students.

While it may seem significant effort has been made by the district, the virtual learning platform is riddled with fault. A staggering 400 IT tickets were submitted within the first week for issues with the school provided laptops, most of which pertain to the fact that the laptops were not properly maintained and upgraded to the latest software that is currently being utilized. Our district employs multiple IT technicians–how was this possibly an oversight? Why was this work not completed between original shutdown of March 2020 and projected re-opening of September 2020? “We felt we were going to be back in school” is not an acceptable answer.

Our children are not being provided the benefits of direct personal instruction, the team building-life lessons stemming from athletic competition, extracurricular activities, and the overall beneficial experience that grammar, middle, and high school life produces. Additionally, our children are being deprived of social interaction, which is a crucial component of childhood development. Our high school students are mandated to pay for parking, education, and extracurricular clubs, despite the fact the salaries, insurance, pension, and overall budgets continue to grow.

We are perpetuating a large disservice to our most vulnerable students with Individual Education Plans (IEP)  and 504s. While some students on IEPs and 504 Plans are able to be virtual, many cannot be.  The support and services provided to these students are imperative for their future growth and development. An exorbitant amount of  time is delegated by both parents and staff members in regards to our special education sector. Many children will not be able to regain skills and abilities that have been sidelined, and many others will never be given the opportunity to gain such skills and abilities if left on hold.

Our teachers are expected to be able to teach synchronously, a-synchronously, with one hand tied behind their back and hopping on one foot. Yet the administration has done little if anything to alleviate any of their day to day struggles. Student engagement, motivation and progress tracking is next to impossible with little accountability on the part of the students. How do you ensure a student is not “googling” the answers to a test you are not witnessing them take? How do you confirm the lessons you are virtually teaching, are actually being absorbed without impromptu discussions and tests where you can gauge the students’ retainage? Our teachers are learning the software at the same time as our students. We cannot fault them.

As any adult who has gone through any form of educational system during their own childhood must realize, there is clearly no substitution for face to face, teacher to student, student to student, teacher to teacher interaction. Online lessons through Zoom, Google-classroom and other programs used are grossly ineffective. A large majority of students participating in virtual learning are purely going through the motions of signing on, getting work done and submitted.  In a traditional school setting, teachers are able to provide individualized lessons to accommodate the learning style and needs of all students, which is impossible to facilitate through a computer screen.

The following statistics are from the American Academy of Pediatrics released on 9/10/20.

Summary of Findings (data available as of 9/10/20) :
(Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting)

  • Cumulative Number of Child COVID-19 Cases*
    549,432 total child COVID-19 cases reported, and children represented 10% (549,432/5,493,006) of all cases
    Overall rate: 729 cases per 100,000 children in the population
  • Children were 0.6%-3.6% of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.3%-8.2% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization
  • Mortality (42 states and NYC reported)*
    Children were 0%-0.3% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 18 states reported zero child deaths In states reporting, 0%-0.2% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death

*Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting; all data reported by state/local health departments are preliminary and subject to change.

We are not asking for a miraculous full re-opening of our school system. we are seeking transparency and a detailed explanation as to why our schools are not able to open according to the pre-approved hybrid model. Our society as a whole is suffering from the current plight and will only continue to do so until our schools are open and thriving in the current environment, whatever that may look like.

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