BOSTON (CBS) – Parents of Boston Public Schools’ students have whiplash over the back-and-forth plans of their kids’ education as the district navigates the uncharted waters of teaching 54,000 students in a pandemic.
As the school year started, they were entirely remote. Then, a hybrid plan began on October 1, allowing the district’s most high-need students back into the buildings two days a week. Now, it’s unclear what’ll be next.
“I think there’s a very real concern these kids might not even be in school this year,” Michael Colanti of West Roxbury told WBZ. His 7-year-old daughter Maia is learning remotely as a student at the Patrick Lyndon Elementary School. His four-year-old daughter Mae, who has Down syndrome, is learning in person two days a week at the William W. Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester.
“It gives her structure and routine, things that unfortunately we’re unable to provide her at home,” Mae’s mother, Cristina, said.
Now, there’s a threat of that in-person learning being temporarily ripped away. As Boston’s COVID-19 count reached a 4.1% positive rate, Mayor Marty Walsh announced the school reopening plan would be on “pause,” i.e., staying as it is now.
Then the Boston Teachers Union fired back, suing the school district, and saying the decision is in violation of an agreement it had reached with the city. “The language is very clear,” BTU President Jessica Tang said in a press conference Thursday. “It says anything above four percent, we go all remote.”
The union is demanding Boston Public Schools switch back to all-remote learning, citing safety concerns for teachers as some of the city’s neighborhoods see positive rates up to eight percent. In the meantime, the BTU said it, “will continue to comply with the language in the safety agreement that allows for an option to teach remotely today, tomorrow and beyond, and will support any educators that may face undue repercussions as a result of exercising their right to work safely and remotely now that the city-wide rate is above 4%, and is much higher in many Boston neighborhoods.”
“It’s a tough call but I’m still interested in sending him back to school,” said Danielle Johnson of Dorchester. Her 8-year-old son, Cornelle, has ADHD. “When he’s in school for his two days [a week], it’s great reports, he’s doing all his work, he’s completing assignments. He loves it,” she told WBZ. “He loves his teachers. His teachers are amazing. But I notice a stark contrast when he’s at home.”
Mae Colanti’s parents say remote learning simply didn’t work for their daughter. She needs hands on therapy, and had a short attention span for Zoom, they told WBZ. “[She was] doing more pointing, screaming, grunting, pulling to get attention,” her mother Cristina explained. “When she’s in the company of other people and other kids, she doesn’t act that way.”
Both Johnson and the Colantis are sympathetic to teachers’ safety concerns, but feel seeing their special needs children in school is a “calculated risk” necessary for their growth and development. The mixed messages from the district from day to day and even hour to hour, they say, are stressful.
“It would be kind of like a tease, the fact that [Mae] got to go back these three days,” Cristina Colanti said. “We finally got a green light to go, she’s excited, we’re trying to settle into whatever this new normal is. And to think about it being suddenly pulled away is devastating and terrifying. I don’t – I don’t know what our family will do.”