Parental concerns over reopening schools

Derek Hazelwood (left) and Zeb Elliott (right) posted a video to the Concerned Parents/Guardians of Students of Mecklenburg County Va Public Schools Facebook page detailing their conversation with Superintendent Paul Nichols.

Derek Hazelwood and Zeb Elliott, organizers of the Concerned Parents/Guardians of Students of  Mecklenburg County Va Public Schools Facebook page, met with Paul Nichols on Friday, June 19 to address the issues that parents are having with the reopening plans for the 2020/2021 school year. 

“One of the things that we took away from this meeting is that not everything is set in stone yet. There are still a thousand different issues that need to be addressed and fixed. From what we gathered is that the School Board, school board staff, and the Superintendent are working really hard to answer those questions and figure those things out. They don’t have all of the answers yet” said Elliott. 

The biggest questions are revolving around the survey that was sent to parents to fill out. The concern is whether or not the survey somehow locks parents and children into an obligation. The answer is no it does not. “This is a survey. It is something that they want to gather information on. While it could have had some opportunity for improvement in the way that it worded things, it does not obligate you or your family to any particular choice for the next school year.” 

“One of the biggest things that they said they were looking at [on the survey] is how many students would want to just stay at home and do 100% online schooling. That’s one of their biggest concerns. Also secondly is transportation because transportation is quite an issue. Lets be honest Mecklenburg we’re going to have to step up a little bit here to try to help the school system. You know they can’t be all things to all people and some things will be different from what they’ve ever been. We know in some places there are bus shortages to begin with and definitely short on bus drivers. Because of these schedules and things alternating its going to be hard for them to get kids in.” added Hazelwood.

Mr. Hazelwood outlined one possible solution to the transportation issue. “One bus load could come in at 8 o’clock because of how many kids can be on a bus and then another bus load could come in at nine and a teachers tries to catch them up.”

Another major issue for parents has been how information has been relayed to the public about changes and updates for the upcoming school year. Mr. Elliott said that both parties acknowledged that there had been “a gap” there, not because it was intentional but because the school system did not necessarily have all of the information. 

One of the proposed ways to combat this issue would be to have “Town Halls” so that the schools “can communicate with the parents, teachers, and students in their area”. The idea calls for meetings within each locality in Mecklenburg County while also giving the option to dial in or view virtually. 

Mr. Hazelwood reiterates the power in numbers and encourages parents and guardians to continue to speak out and let their voices be heard. Emails, comments, and concerns from parents were printed out and given to Mr. Nichols. “This group on Facebook is getting a lot of attention. People are following that throughout leadership and so forth so continue to post your information because out of this group we came up with some pretty good suggestions.” 

There were some options discussed regarding the alternating schedules that were proposed at the June School Board meeting but Mr. Elliott and Mr. Hazelwood agreed not to share those with the public yet because there “wasn’t a really good feeling about where the county would go” and they do not want to make them feel obligated to something. 

Childcare is another topic that has caused serious concern among parents. With the current alternating schedules plan, students would attend school in person one week and the next would be done by virtual learning. The situation is not ideal for parents who work full-time and have children who are too young to be left alone at home. Even students old enough to be at home by themselves might require supervision to assure that the work is being done. 

“We have some solutions that may be able to happen but we’re going to wait a bit before we go into those. One of the things that I do want to talk about for a brief second is you all as a community start thinking about open facilities that may be available to do things right now. Think about open buildings that are vacant throughout the county that could be used for offsite things on a short term basis,” said Hazelwood. 

Mr. Elliott added, “We need internet access facilities. We need areas that have internet access. We know of buildings on this end of the county but what we really need are some contacts and some help on the other end of the county. It’s just not an area that we get very close to. So if there’s anybody on that end that could help we would definitely appreciate you reaching out to us.”

One of the ideas discussed on the topic of childcare and alternating schedules is for parents, especially those with more than one child, to look at having one child on the A schedule and one on the B schedule so that only one daycare slot is needed. This idea essentially cuts daycare costs in half according to Elliott. 

A COVID response plan was discussed during the meeting with Mr. Nichols as well. The goal is to have a plan in place should a student, teacher, or staff member test positive for the Coronavirus. “There is going to be a plan in place to be able to keep control of the situation,” says Hazelwood. 

He continued, “Sanitation was another thing that we talked about and one the things is that the county has invested in fog machines. One that will actually take away and kill germs. So it’s not just somebody wiping down, they are actually using professional machinery to try to do some contamination cleaning in between classes.” Mr. Elliott added, “They will use them on the buses as well.” Both gentlemen said that they were impressed by the school’s sanitation plan. 

“We’re not pro one idea or the other. We understand that you can argue feelings all day but you can’t argue facts and we are presenting facts and what would be best for our children.” Mr. Hazelwood continued, “I see the comment a lot ‘Hey nobody can do anything. You have to go by the Department of Education standards. There’s nothing you can do’. Well that’s not exactly true. There are legal aids within the document that was sent out talking about access and how things happen and not only that but also about being in a rural area. And I have to tell you Mecklenburg is not the only county that is standing and saying ‘Hey this doesn’t really feel like it works’.”

“I’ll be forthright with everyone. I just don’t think we’re going to have the perfect solution here. We’re not going to go back full time, everybody goes back to normal, at least not immediately.” Mr. Elliott continued, “Mr. Nichols was very adamant that he wants to find a path back to normal. They’re not liking this anymore than we are because it doesn’t make their jobs any easier have to administer and run the school system in this way.” 

“The school system is willing to listen, they are here to help and they do understand a lot of the concerns but we just don't have a lot of the answers yet. So we’re really working towards finding these answers and rest assured we are not going to give up on this. This is not something that we’re going to let sit. We’re going to continuously follow up and engage,” says Elliott.  

Hazelwood and Elliott plan to do their homework and keep an open line of communication with Mr. Nichols. They will continue working on finding a solution to parents, students, and teachers concerns.