Remote learning isn’t working for many of our children

By Jack Moore

Pittsboro, NC – Here is my daughter’s letter to the Wake County Schools. I’m very proud of her and feel the same about Chatham County Schools for my two other grand-kids; kids who moved here two weeks before the shutdown last Spring.

Attention Wake County parents! I encourage you to write your school board and express your thoughts on the recent changes to their in-person plan for our district (Plan B.) Be direct. Be kind. Most importantly; be clear in how you and your children are doing. I did just that and am patiently waiting for a response.

photo by Jordan Whitt

Good Afternoon Chris and fellow board members,

I am writing to inform you this isn’t working. Not just for me but several hundred of the families you serve. I struggle to find words to appropriately describe the stress and frustration that my husband and I feel with the current state of affairs in Wake County.

As a former Wake County teacher, I can say with 100% confidence that had I not decided to leave the profession to raise my children nine years ago, this year certainly would have been my last. What is being asked of teachers and parents is not conducive to a quality learning environment, especially at the elementary level.

If it hasn’t been clear in the past, let it be clear now. It’s time for you to listen to the families you serve.

The K/1 parents at our school had a meeting Friday with our children’s teachers. Although they were professional and positive, I have never seen more defeated educators. They are working themselves to the bone. They don’t want to be teaching remotely. They know this isn’t working for our youngest student population, our non-readers. Heck, they know this isn’t working for most proficient students. The fact that they find out with the rest of us your decisions on the changes made to the school year is unacceptable!

I understand under the current circumstances there is no one size fits all. It is for that reason I applauded your efforts to meet the needs of all Wake County students, giving the option of remote or in-person learning. What has happened though is you said one thing and did another. The families of students that desired remote learning; their needs are being met. Those of us that requested in-person learning to meet our children’s needs are not.

I am failing to see how this works.

If a privately funded school can find a way to get students back safely (giving parents options and sticking to that promise) a public tax-funded school can do the same. If Outback Steakhouse and Walmart/Target/ABC stores can safely open, with hundreds of customers in and out on a daily basis from all different homes, surely our schools can safely accommodate the small number of students that requested and require in-person learning. If childcare facilities can operate at full capacity, our schools can operate at 50% or less!

It has been stated multiple times that the county had over 50% enrollment in Virtual Academy (prior to your mid-August surprise!) which means that schools are immediately equal to/ less than 50% capacity without any further adjustments. There’s your social distancing. There’s your safety protocol.

You are the largest school district in North Carolina. Over 50% of our district is at a disadvantage; be it disability, language or socioeconomic barriers. School Board Chair Keith Sutton shared that schools across our district are large enough to facilitate social distancing.

By mid-August WCPPS declared the students would be returning no sooner than October 22. What changed? We have repeatedly been told masks and social distancing work. Then let them work!

This virus isn’t going anywhere. We have to learn to live with it. I refuse to believe that this is the best you could come up with. I refuse to believe somehow if I had an extra $15,000 to $30,000 to throw at private school, my children would be safer from this virus. I refuse to believe that you can’t see how you are hurting our students, our families and our communities.

I am a working mother, with a working spouse and three children (two first graders and a fourth grader.) We are doing our best but doing our best isn’t going to make up for the lost learning from the spring. Doing our best isn’t going to give us more hours in the day to help our children complete all the work they aren’t getting done during the day because their parents have a job to do. Doing our best isn’t removing the risk of social isolation, lost learning and screen-time overload that is taking place.

What is keeping us home?

Communicate clearly with the families you serve. If it’s busing, send out a survey to see who is able to carpool and who absolutely needs transportation. Make it clear that if they are able to transport their children, they should as you need accurate numbers for the transportation department to determine if a return to school is possible. If it’s space in a school, get creative. Send our younger students back first. Slowly transition as the case numbers allow.

Use the data.

We keep hearing over and over, follow the data. Why are you not following the data? You can’t cherry pick the science you consider when making these decisions. Top health officials said we need to shut down the schools and contain the spread. You listened. Those same experts said wear a mask and social distance when possible. We listened.

Now the CDC says“…the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs..” Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school. The in-person school environment does the following: provides educational instruction; supports the development of social and emotional skills; creates a safe environment for learning; addresses nutritional needs; and facilitates physical activity. These are the facts.

I want to make it clear, my children are in the best possible environment in these trying times. They live in a safe home, with two parents, access to healthy food and technology and we are still struggling on a daily basis. I have an academically gifted child that has never struggled with school crying on a regular basis out of frustration. My first graders deal with daily headaches and restless sleep from the amount of screen time. I consider myself lucky this is the worst of it for our family. We are the minority. I cannot sit silently and allow this continue for my children and the thousands of others that aren’t as fortunate.

You have an opportunity to show Wake County families you have their best interests in mind. You have a chance to turn this around. Make this school district successful. Don’t let this moment pass. The decisions you make now will affect many generations to come.

Sincerely, Cara Fulkerson