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Stonington Parents Raise Concerns Over Hybrid Learning

The Stonington Board of Education is planning to survey parents, students, and staff to gather data on what kind of learning model the majority of the community would like to see.

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Some parents in Stonington say the hybrid model of learning is not cutting it for their children, raising concerns that a lack of in-person learning is causing problems for students.

"Their moods at the dinner table are remarkably different," said Kate Wagner.

Wagner and her husband, Peter, have two children who attend schools in Stonington. They have been in a hybrid model of learning since the fall and, the parents say, it is taking its toll.

“They are a little bit more despondent, apathetic," said Kate Wagner. "Our son, around Thanksgiving time, he actually punched a hole in his wall because he was having a hard time with a math problem and he couldn’t just raise his hand and ask for help.”

The Wagners would like to see their children return to school in-person, full time, and argue that it can happen safely.

“It would be tragic to continue this model that obviously is doing more harm to our community than good," said Peter Wagner.

The Wagners joined nine other parents who spoke virtually at a Stonington Board of Education meeting Thursday night. The parents said they are concerned that their children are disengaged and that virtual learning is negatively impacting students' mental and physical health.

Dan Kelley, a parent and a paraprofessional at SPS, said he does not believe returning to school full time can be done safely. He read letters from two of his coworkers sharing similar concerns.

The public comments come after Superintendent Dr. Van Riley sent a letter to the school community last week. Dr. Riley acknowledged the challenges of remote learning but said that Stonington Public Schools will remain in their hybrid model of learning for now.

"We are beginning to plan for the fall with the intent to offer in-school options for all students that meet CDC and DPH guidelines. If we are able to open full time sooner and can assure families and staff that we are following all safety protocols, we will certainly move in that direction," Riley wrote.

According to the letter, it is the district's intent to open schools as soon it is deemed safe to do so. Riley outlined several challenges that Stonington Public Schools are facing, including staffing shortages as the district is currently averaging more than 30 teacher/staff absences every day.

Riley also said that the school district would struggle with providing enough space to meet social distancing requirements if students were to return full-time, in-person.

The letter can be read here.

At Thursday's board of education meeting, the board chair shared that he has heard both from people who want full in-person learning and from people who want to stay in hybrid learning. The board decided to formally survey staff, parents, and students to learn more about what the community would like to see happen next.

Kate Wagner also suggested that the district creates a task force, similar to the task force that was formed in the summer to reopen schools, that would monitor pandemic-related data and regularly check in to see how the school community is doing.

"Where we are reassuring families that school transmission is low, if it is not we are finding out why," said Wagner. “My hope is that we can kind of move forward with a general, more collaborative community approach where we are tracking the data in a more transparent way.”

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