Fairfield families still say they need remote learning options

FAIRFIELD — The School District back to full in-person learning last year, ending many COVID-19 protocols and the remote learning option, leaving families with immunocompromised members with a tough decision.

“I felt like I had to choose between my life and my son’s education,” said Wanda Cruz, the mother of a sixth-grader in the district. “It’s an awful place to live because as a parent the only thing you want for your children is a good education and a bright future.”

This year, there are even fewer precautions in place, and the school board removed language about COVID-19 from the district’s remote learning policy last week. But some parents say the remote option is still needed because Fairfield officials say it’s something the state should offer.

Cruz, an immunocompromised single mother, said the Distance Learning Academy that was available during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was a blessing. When this ceased to be available last year, her son was offered distance learning accommodation. But the live instruction was very limited, so she chose to send it, which was a terrifying risk for her.

“The thought of leaving your child without a mother is terrifying,” she said. “That doesn’t even do him justice. It was a battle.”

Lezah Yeoh, the mother of Mason Yeoh High School, said she son needed distance learning because older brotherMitchell Yeoh, 26, is immunocompromised. Mason held a rally last year at the town hall complex where a few dozen residents lobbied for a remote learning option.

Yeoh said Mason finally got that option for the 2021 school year, but first had to prove it was necessary. She said it was even harder to secure distance learning for her this year.

“Mitchell being our eldest son, who is still immunocompromised, is in remission and is still on a lot of anti-rejection meds because of his three organ transplants,” she said. “It always puts him in danger.”

Fairfield School Board member and policy committee chair Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly said school districts may have remote education opportunities, but it’s not like it was at the height of the pandemic. She said the state has issued strict guidelines for distance high school courses that must be met for them to earn credit.

“It would take an investment of time,” she said. “It would take political commitment. It would involve serious work to make this a possibility for Fairfield Public Schools, and right now, with an interim superintendent and then a brand new superintendent, it would just be a hell of a thing for the to take at this time. There was not quite the will to do so.

Since the state does not allow dual instruction, meaning classes where there are both students physically in the classroom and an online connection, Maxon-Kennelly said this would require a significant investment of resources. She said the district hasn’t done a formal survey of how many people want remote options, but she hasn’t heard from anyone who wants them in at least a year.

Acting Superintendent of Schools Stephen Tracey said the district has had a handful of cases where families with a student or an immunocompromised person in their household have requested remote housing.

“The school district sorted that out and adapted to that,” he said. “We are sensitive to this concern. We respond to requests as they come in.”

To make a choice

Cruz said she was harassed online by members of the community who didn’t think her family’s concern was deserved – even before the Distance Learning Academy stopped being offered.

“It was legitimately COVID deniers, a lot of Q-Anon type people,” she said. “It was just constant (on social media). It was relentless. It was a constant attack of ‘Why do you need it? What is the point? You just live in fear. You are ruining your child’s life. It’ll be OK. It’s a common cold for most people. It was probably the worst year of my life trying to justify to anyone, even the district, why we needed this.”

She said it was difficult when it was learned that remote learning was not going to be as readily available in the spring of 2021. She said she and other families in the same position had written letters and campaigns at all levels for it to be offered.

Cruz said state and local officials were basically pointing fingers at each other, telling families it was out of their hands. She said there were also arguments that it was not fiscally possible to offer, with which she disagrees.

“They kept pushing us away,” she said. “Eventually they came back and said they were going to do it on a case-by-case basis.”

Cruz said the district required a high burden of proof before agreeing to a remote learning option for her child, and it was difficult to prove it was necessary. When approved, the service offered was incredibly overwhelming, she said.

“They offered us two hours of live instruction — probably three times a week — and a random tutor for the rest of the time,” she said. “My child should have basically educated himself with my help.”

Cruz said she worked full time from home and couldn’t believe the district offered so little. After much thought and discussion with her son’s father, she said, it was decided to accept that it was not something she could do in good faith for her child.

“I just couldn’t deprive him of his education,” she said. “I made the very difficult decision to send him to school knowing that I could get sick and possibly end up in hospital or worse.”

When school started, Cruz said, her family and other families were harassed for wearing masks. She said the whole ordeal was very disturbing and it was hard to explain to her son why people in the community were behaving this way.

Cruz said her son contracted COVID-19 in May, so they had to live on separate floors and wear a mask 24/7. She said they did well, but thinks the outcome would have been worse had he not been vaccinated.

“He was terrified of me getting sick,” she said. “No matter what you say to your child, at this age they have their own idea of ​​what might happen.”

Cruz said her son thrived when he was back in school, but it was the most stressful year of his life.

Yeoh said his family requested distance learning for Mason and provided two doctors with notes stating their medical reason – one was from Mason’s doctor and the other from Mitchell. She noted that Mitchell had undergone organ transplants and was in remission from cancer, and doctors said it would be a risk for Mason to attend the school in person.

Although there was a small setback, Yeoh said, the school district agreed to provide remote learning for Mason last year, and again this school year — his final year at Warde. She said Fairfield staff teach all but three of her classes, which are outsourced through the Homebound program, PLATO.

Although there were some difficulties organizing his schedule, Yeoh said Mason’s biggest challenge was missing his friends and teachers. She said he was homeschooled when he was younger because Mitchell was sick, so he was always okay with doing things to protect his family.

“It’s nothing new for him,” she said. “But we try to find different ways to socialize him safely, as much as possible. It’s still a challenge.”

State Monitoring

Maxon-Kennelly noted that the school board removed COVID-19 language from the district’s remote learning policy this week, adding that state guidelines are to treat it like any other respiratory illness.

In order to do distance education well for people who need it, Maxon-Kennelly said she believes the state should create and teach courses. Cities have relatively few students requesting remote learning, so it would make more sense to have a state-led initiative.

“They could offer a freshman English course, and anyone who needed that option could take it,” she said. “You could have 20 kids there, not 20 different towns trying to do this all on their own.”

Overall, Maxon-Kennelly said students need in-person learning, but she thinks there are specific exceptions where remote learning is the best way to meet some students’ educational needs. .

Tracey said there was funding available last year for remote learning, but that grant is no longer available. He added that the district would have needed to find more funding if it had been tasked with following the Academy’s previous system of distance learning.

Fewer than five families requested remote learning arrangements last year, Tracey said, and he doesn’t know of any new ones who requested it this year. He said these programs are tailored to specific students and their circumstances.

“Everyone I listen to is a big advocate for keeping schools open in a way that’s consistent with public health,” he said. “Everyone sees the impact of keeping children out of school. But, at the end of the day, education is a very personal experience and we have to be sensitive to the particular needs of children and families.”

To advance

Overall, remote learning has generally worked, Yeoh said, thanking Warde’s teachers and staff for stepping up and providing assistance. She said if that hadn’t happened, she was going to rent an apartment and live there with Mason so he could go to school and be away from his brother.

“We should have spent money that we don’t have all school year, just to keep Mitchell safe,” she said.

Hopefully, Yeoh said, it’s not something that has to go on forever as Mitchell’s health and immune system improve. Vaccines and COVID-19 boosters have also helped make the situation safer, she said.

“I hope that more and more people will be vaccinated and vaccinated so that we can live a normal life,” she said. “Anything.”

Cruz said no one is wearing masks or keeping their distance in schools anymore, and the district is not reporting COVID-19 cases more quickly. She said her child was exposed three times in the first week of school this year, but she learned about it from other parents.

She said she and her son have each lost friends to the COVID discord, but she’s happy to say she and her son are both fully vaccinated and healthy. She said her doctor no longer thinks she will die if she gets COVID, but she could still get seriously ill.

“Now we’re managing the way we can,” Cruz said. “We are mitigating as much as we can.”

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