Following some in-person protests outside of Frederick County Board of Education meetings in recent weeks, some parents of Frederick County Public Schools students have planned an all-day logout protest that is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.
Sarah Steinberg, a mother of four FCPS students and one homeschooled student, is one of the lead organizers of Tuesday’s planned protest. She and other parents are hoping to show strength in numbers and show the school system and the board of education how many families are unhappy with virtual learning.
The protest in execution is simple, Steinberg said.
“[Students] will just simply not go to school that day. They will not go for their meetings, they will not go into Schoology,” she said.
Families who choose to participate in the protest are being encouraged to contact their school’s attendance office ahead of time and give notice that their child will be using one of five allotted vacation days that are given to students. This way, student absences will be excused, according to Steinberg, and they will be allowed to make up missed work.
In an email, School Superintendent Terry Alban said she respects the rights of parents to voice their concerns.
When asked how the school system plans to handle what could be a large number of students being absent that day, Alban said teachers will move forward with planned lessons and that learning will continue for students who do attend school.
“While using the virtual model, we have modified our attendance taking procedures and will continue to apply those procedures,” Alban said. “Anytime a student is absent, they have access to missed instruction and opportunities to make-up the work missed.”
She added that the instructional impact such a protest could have will differ for individual students.
Board Vice President Jay Mason, who voted against moving to the hybrid model, said in an email that he understands the impact virtual learning is having on students and families as a parent of three FCPS students himself.
“We are deeply committed to the mental and physical health and safety of our students and staff. I am in continuous discussions to develop a solution to ensure that when we return to the classroom, it can be done as safe as possible,” Mason said. “I understand there are many viewpoints on this topic and everyone has the right to express those views.”
Steinberg and other parents are members of a few different Facebook groups that all call for a return to in-person learning. The online groups are filled with stories, pictures and videos of students who are struggling with virtual learning.
To some, it may seem counterproductive to pull a student out of school for a day when they are already struggling, but Steinberg said it’s a small sacrifice for the greater good. If it helps to get parents’ voices heard, then in the end, it will have been worth it, she said.
“If logging out for one day helps the [board] see how much we need to be in school, that little extra effort it may take on the part of students and parents to catch up that evening will be well worth it,” Steinberg said. “It is no different than parents taking a day off from work to attend a protest/rally.”
She also pointed to times in history when students would walk out of schools or stage sit-ins to make their voices heard.
“We need the board to know we aren’t going away and that we will continue to fight for our students,” Steinberg said, and added that there are already many students who don’t log on regularly due to lack of WiFi, homelessness and other factors.
“We are standing with them to help get that very high-risk group back to school. These are the forgotten kids no one is talking about,” she said.
Steinberg said her three oldest children were handling the virtual learning model well and had good grades, but for her, it’s not about the grades.
“Some people might be like, ‘Oh, why are you complaining?’ I’m complaining and upset because it is not what learning should look like and they are not being challenged in a way that will further their advancement in academics,” Steinberg said.
She and other parents also feel like the board is not listening to their desires and pointed to recent survey results that were released by FCPS. The surveys, which were conducted in July and received responses from approximately 20,000 parents, showed 67 percent said they would opt for a hybrid learning model if the school system moved in that direction.
“It seems like [the board is] always focusing on the people that don’t want to [go back] when there’s more people that want to go back to school,” Steinberg said.
While she is happy to phase into a hybrid model for the time being, Steinberg said she would ultimately like to see a return to full in-person learning. There are flaws with the hybrid model, Steinberg said, and she feels like it would put more of a workload on teachers.
She and others understand that some families may still feel more comfortable staying at home and learning virtually. For those that do want to return to in-person learning, they know there is a risk, Steinberg said. She suggested having families who send their children back to school sign waivers acknowledging that their child could get sick.
When asked if she is concerned that a return to school could cause an outbreak or the death of a student or staff member, Steinberg said she is concerned, but that it’s not realistic to live life in fear.
“Everything that we do in life is risky...there may be that rare case, unfortunately and very sad that a child could pass away, but that could happen in a number of situations in everyday life,” she said.
Steinberg added that she is aware of how serious the coronavirus can be and is not trying to downplay it, but she feels life can continue if everyone plays their part in being responsible and adhering to measures like mask wearing and social distancing.
“I really am sensitive to everybody that’s lost somebody and everybody who maybe is dealing with side effects from the coronavirus. I know it’s serious and I take it seriously myself,” she said. “There are ways to keep us safe and continue on.”