When parents Stephanie Culley of Cluster Springs and Beth Farmer of Alton opened the “HCPS Back to School 2020-2021 Family Survey,” they were disappointed to see only two options — a hybrid option that included face-to-face learning or solely online learning.
“I was expecting more options,” said Farmer.
But, Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg explained that the survey is a starting point, and the school system feared if they added too many options, they “would end up not getting clarity on any of it.”
“We welcome the feedback,” he added.
The survey also covers topic such as internet access, internet speed, device availability and mode of transportation preferred.
It became available to parents Tuesday through the school system’s instant alert system. School officials hope parents will fill it out by July 6.
By Wednesday afternoon, the superintendent said roughly 35% of parents had completed the survey, and he said it seems the majority of parents will want their students to return to the classroom.
That’s true for Culley and Farmer.
Culley, the parent to four Cluster Springs Elementary School students, three Halifax County High School students and two college students, feels that students need in-person instruction, especially younger students.
“The older kids may be able to manage two days a week,” said Culley.
Currently, the school system has been considering an “A/B” approach to the upcoming school year with group A coming to school Mondays and Wednesdays and group B coming to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays would be used for professional development days for teachers.
Culley feels teachers would not be able to teach fundamentals such as how to read in two spaced-out days.
She has one autistic child and another child who excels greatly in school, and the survey left her worried for both of her upcoming first graders.
The mom of nine believes her autistic child needs the structure of at least four days in school, and she’s worried that the two-day schedule could also hinder her other first grader.
Meanwhile, Farmer has a daughter entering the ninth grade and a son entering eighth grade, and she also is concerned for both of them.
Both of her children are in advance classes, and she fears those two days “are not going to cut it.”
As someone who strives to become an environmental engineer one day after studying at Virginia Tech, Farmer said her daughter is suffering mentally.
Normally, her daughter plays softball and participates with Future Farmers of America, and her mother said she has sat at home all summer worried that now she won’t be able to gain scholarships needed to get into Virginia Tech or may not even get accepted.
She said both of her children have been “mopey,” all summer, are falling into bad routines, and need their structure back.
Her son, she said, has started playing travel ball, and she said his whole demeanor has started to change.
“They’ve taken everything away (from the students),” said Farmer.
But, now she’s seeing dance classes, gymnastics, recreation teams, travel ball and eating in restaurants returning, and it’s left her wondering, “Why can’t they go to school?”
However, some parents such as Jennifer Majors of South Boston would rather have their children learn from home.
The upcoming school year will be Majors’ son’s senior year, butshe said Wednesday, “I don’t see mine coming back.”
Her son, she said, is considered “high risk” to being affected by the coronavirus due to him having diabetes.
With the number of the coronavirus cases in Halifax County rising recently, she doesn’t feel it’s a good idea to reopen schools with face-to-face learning.
“If one of the kids get sick, it’s a whole different ball game,” said Majors.
“I think we need to hold off,” she added, and even if they do return to schools, she thinks attendance will be low.
In speaking with her friends and family, she said, “a lot of people think it’s a bad idea.
“I don’t think we should have to risk our student’s safety,” said Majors.
She also said her son has been scared to go anywhere since the pandemic started in March.
In speaking with her son, she said he was fine either way — going to school for in-person learning or solely completing online learning at home, and she feels all parents should talk to their child about the upcoming school year.
“We need to see if they’re comfortable,” said Majors.
All three mothers also shared another concern – Internet access.
When taking the survey, it’s able to measure the speed of Internet that’s being used, but some like Farmer fear that it isn’t accurate.
“I couldn’t even pull it up on my desktop computer, so I was using my phone,” said Farmer.
Having reliable Internet access is a struggle for Majors and Culley as well, and Culley hopes school systems consider more options for rural areas.
“I just want to make sure we’re given the best. It’s not one size fits all because Virginia is not one size fits all,” she said.
In talking about her Internet, Majors said it “goes out all the time,” and said something needs to be done.
In the meantime, Lineburg is fielding phone calls, reviewing survey answers, and maintained, “we have not decided on anything.”
He said the models can be modified, and are based off of guidance from “Recover, Redesign, and Restart 2020,” Virginia’s return to school plan.
The guidance, he said, is cross-referenced from the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education.
“As the superintendent of schools, I am going to comply with the guidelines because safety is my number one priority,” said Lineburg.
Moving forward, he said he has confidence in his school team to create the “best possible model under constraints given.”