Opinion: Parent Urges Comal ISD to Stop Pressuring Remote Learners and Parents
by Krystal Thompson
Mother of two remote learners at Garden Ridge Elementary School
(Editor’s Note: This OP/ED was written in response to a Friday, Jan. 5 email to parents from Comal ISD Board of Trustees President David Drastata.)
I opened an email from Mr. David Drastata this evening, written on behalf of the school board. I was disappointed but not surprised. Statements were made in this email which willfully ignore the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is much worse now than when the prudent decision to move to all remote learning was made last year.
Statements were made which place unjust and unfair pressure on parents who have chosen remote learning for their students at this time. Statements were made that seriously sell short the skills and dedication of the fine educators within this district.
Since the beginning of this challenging school year, the school board for Comal ISD has touted with pride the choice that they have given everyone — the desire for the parents to have options. Both remote and in-person education have been offered successfully.
As the parent of two remote students, there has been consistent pressure from certain administrators and the school board to return to in-person learning. When they say choice, they mean they will continue to offer in-person learning despite the pandemic. This is evidenced by the following quote: “The key to tackling this issue [students being behind] is to first encourage the remaining 20-percent of students in remote learning to return to campus.”
The statement shows little regard for any parents who have made the challenging decision to keep their students home for a variety of reasons including immunocompromised family members, elderly relatives in the home, comorbidities, and/or the decision to keep those students home to allow those who truly need to be in school the space to learn and still socially distance.
Additionally, Mr. Drastata does acknowledge that there are learning gaps this year across the board (how could there not be here, across the country and globally given the circumstances?) but is quick to focus that on remote students.
“The biggest challenge within that is with our remote learners. No one at this point can dispute the disparities between on-campus instruction and remote learning.”
This disappointed me for innumerable reasons, but to name a few:
1.) My remote learners are testing at or above their grade level in curriculum assessments and measures-of-academic-progress (MAP) screeners, as have many of their peers. It would have been immensely helpful to see any data attached to back up this claim that the remote learners are the ones lagging behind across the board, rather than broad, general-and-disparaging statements. (Editor’s note: MAPs help the district know if a student is at, above, or below the expected level in reading.)
2.) This is yet another statement from this board that woefully underestimates and frankly insults the talented, dedicated and innovative educators within this district who have tirelessly put in endless hours to not just “handle” remote teaching but excel at it! My two students have received more direct attention, one-on-one time and individualized learning than ever before and have bloomed in this challenging time thanks to these amazing teachers.
3.) These claims are made with no opportunity for the teachers or remote parents to voice their opinions, concerns or even praise. I specifically asked for a phone number or email address we might have to thank and praise our teachers and was told nothing could be done. I emailed an administrator over my disappointment that in-person learning rather than “choice” was being pushed in emails about the instructional-delivery options and received no response. Teachers are not being consulted.
If they were, Mr. Drastata would know and acknowledge that learning in person is not going so well either. Necessary precautions such as hand washing and sanitizing take up large blocks of what was formerly education time.
The number of kids back in school necessitates more quarantine days as the kids are no longer able to socially distance in classes of 19, 20 or 21 kids. Lunchrooms are so crowded that the kids can no longer speak to each other while eating as it is unsafe. These are precautions taken to keep in-school learners safe and I applaud the effort, but placing primary focus of lack of educational progress on remote learners seems a bit naive as to the world around us this year.
I ask that the board honor its statement of “choice” and stop pressuring remote parents and learners to return to school when they feel unsafe. I ask that they listen to their educators who are on the verge of a nervous breakdown and ease their strain, and I ask that they focus on a plan to get these educators and staffers vaccinated and help all students catch up and still feel valued in a challenging year.