Schools

‘This literally scares the hell out of me’: Parents call on state officials to make remote learning options available

"I’ve had to choose between homeschooling my child working a full-time schedule or sending my kid into an essential death trap."

Stefano Guidi/Getty Images, File

Parents from communities around Massachusetts gathered virtually on Monday to call on education officials to make remote learning options available for students as the second pandemic school year gets underway amid the surge of the delta variant.

Parents and organizers with the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a statewide coalition with the mission of protecting and promoting public education, shared their concerns with attendees over Zoom, detailing how the decision by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to require in-person instruction and not allow districts the option of remote learning has impacted their households. 

Vatsady Sivongxay, executive director of MEJA, pointed out that COVID-19 outbreaks in Massachusetts have already shut down entire classrooms

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“For most students, being in school with masks, distancing, upgraded ventilation, and other safety precautions is the best option this fall,” she said. “However, for some students who have disabilities, students who are medically fragile, and children under age 12 who cannot be vaccinated — all of whom are at a higher risk from COVID — [parents] have justifiable concerns about their children returning to the classroom in the delta surge. And while parents have been calling for access to remote learning this fall, we feel that the state and decision-makers are not hearing our need for this.”

Priyanka Rajoria, a Quincy resident, shared she is currently homeschooling her 7-year-old son.

She said she made the decision to keep him at home in part because his age group doesn’t yet have access to the vaccine. 

“We have seen that this virus has brought down a lot of countries and it has brought a lot of devastation,” she said. “He may not get sick probably, but he can bring the virus to my 2-year-old, and I also have my two parents who are living with me, and both of them are 75 plus — one is 78 and one is 76. I’m also equally worried about them as well.”

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Rajoria said she started a petition calling for a remote option in Quincy, which she shared with state education officials. 

The mother of two said the response she’s gotten — that no remote options are being considered  — frightens her. 

“This literally scares the hell out of me,” she said. “I am not ready to send my kid.”

Nelly Medina, parent of a 5-year-old kindergartener in Worcester, said DESE has not taken into consideration children, like her son, who are at high risk due to medical conditions or who live with family members who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. 

The mother said her son, who has asthma, was supposed to attend school in a kindergarten building that didn’t have a HVAC system and no social distancing in the classrooms.

“I’ve had to choose between homeschooling my child working a full-time schedule or sending my kid into an essential death trap,” Medina said.

The choice is a “set up,” she stressed. 

“It’s — send our kids to school so they can get sick or deal with the repercussions,” Medina said. “And I think it’s really unfair. I think it’s indicative of what we’ve been dealing with for the last decade with DESE and how out of touch they are with real families. And [it’s] just really disappointing.”

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Medina said she’s been organizing in Worcester with a group of more than a 100 families with young, unvaccianted children in elementary and middle school. 

Many of the parents are undocumented, she said, and afraid to speak up. 

“They’re sending their kids to school with asthma because they’re afraid that they’re going to get DCF involvement,” she said. “And this is because DESE has not even considered their situation.”

According to MEJA, some parents plan to attend the regular DESE board meeting on Tuesday to present their concerns and continue to plead for the state to adjust its stance on remote learning. 

With no option for virtual instruction, Treasure Houston, a parent to a third-grader, eighth-grader, and 11th-grader in Boston Public Schools, questioned during Monday’s press conference what families like hers are supposed to do. 

Having no pathway for remote learning has “crippled” her family, she said. 

“The governor left us stranded, he left us with no options,” she said. “And it’s not fair … I have one child who has chronic asthma, I have another who has asthma-like symptoms, and she has heart problems and her immune system is really low.”

The Roxbury mother said she’s “standing [her] ground” and keeping her child home, despite receiving a call from a school truancy officer. 

Both she and Rajoria shared they have already lost family members to COVID-19 during the course of the pandemic. 

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“I’m not going to send my child to their death,” Houston said.

Rajoria said she might consider sending her son back into school once he can get vaccinated. But until then, she doesn’t feel comfortable. 

“I really hope that somebody pays heed to us,” she said.

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