SUBSCRIBE NOW

'We should have the choice’: Appo parents react to schools starting year online

Amanda Parrish
Middletown Transcript

MIDDLETOWN -- The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education decided to start classes online for six weeks and then shift to a hybrid plan with some in-person learning in mid-October, but many parents are not happy with the decision.

They feel like their concerns with at-home learning are not being heard by the district administration. Child care, access to the internet and quality education are some of the factors fueling the desire for in-person learning, but most parents just want a choice.

Parents were sent a survey earlier in the summer asking them about return-to-school options, including what method of schooling they preferred and if parents could accommodate transportation in a hybrid model.

Appoquinimink School District provided the survey results to the Middletown Transcript, which showed that 54% of the 8,835 responses preferred hybrid to remote learning. There was no option for fully in-person learning.

Families throughout the district are concerned with providing a quality education under a virtual and hybrid model, and parents want the option to send their child in-person.

Appoquinimink School District Return to School Survey Results.

What’s the plan?

Gov. John Carney announced Aug. 4 schools would be allowed to reopen in a hybrid format. Along with his guidance, the Department of Education released a 34-page “Returning to School” guidance. Then it was up to the districts to implement them.

For Appo, students will be instructed through live and pre-recorded lessons during the first six weeks. When hybrid lessons begin, students will be assigned to cohorts and alternate between days in school and days online. Schedules will vary by grade level.

As of Aug. 24, the board was working on a specific schedule for hybrid learning.

Parents can opt out of in-person classes and continue remote learning if they have concerns regarding COVID-19.

Based on guidance from the governor and DOE, districts were encouraged to offer an option for in-person instruction for those who would have difficulty learning fully online, such as students with special needs, low-income students or English learners.

Counseling, psychological and related services will be offered for the first six weeks to “a targeted group of students” who receive these services because of their IEP.

Parents for in-person school

A Facebook group called “Appo parents/students for having the choice for school” started shortly after the district made its decision, composed of community members who want schools to have a fully in-person option for students. The group has more than 700 members, as of Aug. 25.

Lindsey Sanford, who started the group, said she and other parents are pushing for the schools to offer a fully in-person option, while giving a fully online option.

“I just feel like we as parents deserve to have the right to choose what is best for our children and not have someone else doing it for us,” she said. “We are in a different place than we were in the spring. We should have the choice to go back to school.”

She said she has a first-grader in the Spanish immersion program and doesn’t see how her child would be able to get the most of it if her kid is doing it at home.

Andrew and Jodi Hayden have three children in school, with the youngest being 10 years old. Andrew Hayden said he is concerned with his oldest, who is 15 years old, being responsible for making sure his younger siblings are logging on for school.

The Haydens, who are both nurses, said they “pretty much have zero concerns” with sending his children in-person, based on the research they have done.

“We are looking at the risk versus reward. There is so much risk to our children not going to school, the lack of education,” he said.

He said he could see the mental health of his middle schooler suffer with remote learning in the spring.

Tristan Germann, who has a child in the school district, said he understands those don’t feel comfortable sending their children in-person.

“It’s completely respectable that you fear for your health and safety,” he said. “The problem is the other side of us who feel that our children should have a choice.”

Many parents who spoke to the Middletown Transcript said they considered private school or homeschooling their children due to the Appoquinimink School District’s decision.

Germann, who is an essential worker, and his wife just moved to the area from Ohio and specifically chose this district for its reputable schools. Now they are looking at private schools that are doing in-person learning.

Elizabeth, who requested her last name not be used, said she was looking at private schools and homeschooling for her child.

Both have not had much luck because they said schools are full with long wait-lists.

Although parents are pushing for in-person classes, the chances seem low. According to an email sent to families Aug. 13, the district will communicate other options “when the Governor’s Executive Order is eventually lifted, and schools are able to safely offer traditional, in-person instruction.”

‘They did the right thing’

While hundreds of students and parents are upset with the school’s decision, some parents are happy they don’t have to send their children back to school.

Vicki Palmer, who has a first grader, thinks the school district listened to what the parents wanted.

“I think they are very organized, and they planned it really well,” she said.

Palmer said she works days and her husband works nights, so there will always be someone who can be home with their child. She knows that not all families are as lucky as hers.

“I would be totally heartbroken, scared and worried if I couldn’t be home,” she said. “I feel bad for all the parents who are struggling, but I think the school district did the right thing. I think they are doing the best job that they can do.”

The Appoquinimink School District will send a survey out to parents asking them to pick virtual or hybrid instruction for their children, according to a letter sent to families Aug. 13.

Palmer doesn’t know yet which option she will choose, but it will likely depend on how her son does with online learning.

Christine Murphy, who has a sixth grader and junior, said she doesn’t have concerns about virtual learning yet, but she will choose hybrid learning in October if it’s an option.

“I have a rising sixth grader who is anxious to start middle school and who needs to be in school,” she said in an email. “Continued online learning without some sort of in-person connection isn’t going to cut it for very long.”

Melanie Littleton said she wants whatever is safest for her daughter.

“I understand how difficult it is for parents who rely on their children being in school while they work,” she said. “I know it will be quite difficult for a lot of families. I just hope by this time next year we are as back to normal as we can be.”

‘Choice’ event Aug. 26

A “We should have a choice Event” is scheduled for Aug. 26 at 5:15 p.m. at the Marion E. Proffitt Training Center prior to the school board public workshop where board members will discuss specific plans for the hybrid model. Sanford, who organized the event, said it is not meant to be a rally or a protest.

The Appoquinimink Board of Education virtual public workshop is scheduled to live stream Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. on the Appoquinimink School District YouTube channel.