‘Stressed to the max,’ SLC parents share concerns about online/in-person learning

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) — Parents in the Salt Lake City School District are asking for a voice; to be heard and to have transparency.

School board members at the Salt Lake City School District School are planning for, come January,  students Pre-K through 6th grade returning to the classroom for the first time this school year.

Every single parent wants what is best for their child. But for each parent, that could mean something different when it comes to their child’s education during the pandemic. During a Zoom meeting, there were parents who wanted options, parents who want to stay remote, and parents who wanted to go back to the classroom.

Several parents in the community voiced their opinions about this to ABC4 News.

“We just can’t do it anymore,” said Starr Smith.

Smith said her kids are falling behind and wants the school district to allow for options. She’s considered moving her kids out of the district.

“We want the option like every other school district,” said Smith.

“Doing homeschool is super-duper tough,” said Tenesha Luckett.

Luckett is a single mom and a business owner. She homeschooled her only child and she transferred into the Salt Lake City School District, supporting remote learning. She said parents need to take more responsibility for their child’s education.

“We feel very strongly about a choice,” said Sarah Metcalfe.

Metcalfe supports being able to have a choice when it comes to her children’s education. She has six kids with her husband, Ben — four of them are school-aged. She left the SLCSD because they did not allow an in-person option.

Parents have voiced frustrations since the school year started remote, and they continue to do so.

“To say we haven’t been heard is a massive understatement,” said Mary Catherine Perry.

Perry has kids between the Granite and Salt Lake City School District.

Parents said the stress and sacrifice are sinking them.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Suzanne Paylor.

Paylor has four kids in 2nd grade through 12th grade and wishes for a choice in her kids’ education.

The Salt Lake City School District made the choice on November 17th to send Pre-K through 6th graders back to school in phases at the end of January.  Salt Lake was and is the only school district in the state of Utah to have 100 percent remote learning since the beginning of the school year. 

“The board has always said from the beginning that our goal is to get students back to the classroom as soon as we could do that safely,” said Melissa Ford.

Ford is the president of the school board at SLCSD. She has had a few kids go through the school district.

Although safety is uncertain right now, the amount of data and research on children and the coronavirus is growing.

According to the Utah Department of Health, “children are significantly less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.”

In Utah, kids ages 1 to 14 make up 1.3 percent of the hospitalizations in the state.

Parents said this is a contentious topic. Some supported returning to in-person courses, while others liked the remote learning. But most said what’s important is to have a choice; a chance to decide what’s best for their kids.

“I just see a lot of kids including my own that are just really falling behind and I just don’t know how they are going to get caught up,” said Smith.

Smith said remote learning is too isolating. Meanwhile, Jason and Michelle Riverri-Courtoy said they moved into the Salt Lake City School District because it has stayed with online learning.

“We made this decision. It was a struggle for us, but we are really happy with it,” said Michelle Riverri-Courtoy.

The Riverri-Cortouys said having the choice stretches teachers too thin. 

“Education is important,” said Carin Knight.

Knight, a licensed clinical social worker with Intermountain Healthcare, said jumping back and forth between the two options is not healthy for kids either.

“They’re missing the kind of norm of what they have been used to and having to go online, offline back to school then switch,” said Knight. “I think the lack of predictability, the unknown can be really hard on people.”

That unknown has parents feeling scared. They don’t feel heard by the school district.

“I just wish they would be more honest and transparent,” said Perry.

Ford said they host all their bi-weekly meetings virtually and then post them online. They include about 15 minutes of live public comment. 

“Parents want what is best for their kids,” said Ford. “They are so much better positioned to know what’s best for their students than the school board. That is why we are trying to listen to them.

But, the district cannot give every parent exactly what they want.

“I think you have to adjust your expectations and standards,” said Knight. “You cannot be good at everything right now. Be willing to look at all your options. Be compassionate on yourself and your children. Empathize with them. Again, we are all in this together and nobody is doing this perfectly.”

Nobody is doing this alone. The nine families ABC4 News spoke to collectively had 23 school-aged children. For them, it’s about structure, transparency, and leadership.

Knight said it’s not that simple.

“It may be kind of a not black or white not one or the other, but a constant movement of evaluating what is safe and what is not,” said Knight.

While they may never agree on what is right, the school board, the parents, the teachers, and the students are all weighing the same pros and cons. They all face the same impossible decisions and trying to do their best.

“Parents are going to be emotionally connected to that,” said Ford.

“It’s been hard on everyone,” said Perry.

“As unpleasant as it is to think about this, this is a pandemic,” said Amy Fehlberg.

Felhberg is a parent and clinical psychologist who supports remote learning. She also has three school-aged children.

“There are going to be unfair outcomes that are not right and not good and those of us that can do more to help others should be doing that,” said Fehlberg.

The school board said as more data comes in, its decision could change. But Ford tells ABC4 News there is no threshold, no data point they specifically look at to make a choice, instead, they look at the whole picture of how COVID-19 is affecting school-aged children. 

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