When the Hollister School District Board of Trustees voted on Oct. 13 to keep district campuses closed and continue with distance learning until next year, one community group felt left out of the decision: parents.
Ashley Neuman is one parent in favor of HSD returning to in-person instruction. She’s created an online petition, Opening of Hollister district public schools, which currently has gathered 143 signatures.
“My whole reason for doing any of this is my kid,” Neuman said. “I see her struggling and it hurts me. The academic decline and social interaction decline, it’s so huge for these kids.”
Neuman and her husband Matt have four kids, ages seven, four, two, and one. The eldest child is a second grader at Cerra Vista Elementary School.
“Distance learning has been quite the adjustment for our family,” she said. “We have days of tears from frustration from our second grader not understanding or just her crying because she doesn’t want to log back in to do her next session. She looks like a zombie by the end of the day from staring at the computer. I’ve had to buy blue light glasses to try and help her eyes.”
Buying blue light glasses is one of many adjustments parents have made in order to pivot to virtual learning. Parents who work outside the home have also made sacrifices.
“I work outside the home in town. I have had to find family to watch my children during the day,” said Leia Bernabe. Her and her husband Roger have five children ages 21, 12, 11 (twin girls) and 10. The school-aged children attend Calaveras Elementary in fifth, sixth and seventh grades.
“Distance learning has been a struggle trying to keep my children engaged for that long,” Bernabe said. “There are days they don’t want to log on, let alone turn on their cameras or do the work.”
While Bernabe and Neuman agreed that distance learning has been difficult, they had different responses when asked about being willing to return to in-person learning. Neuman said, “Yes, we would return as soon as the school would allow it.”
Bernabe said, “I am not sure at the time. As much as I want my kids to be back at school, I also want them to stay safe and be healthy. As parents we all know our kids get sick more at school then home.”
The distance learning experience varies from parent to parent, but also from student to student. Tiana Guerrero, a mother of five with a senior at San Benito High School and a fourth and sixth grader at Hollister Dual Language Academy, shared her family’s experience.
“Distance learning is going differently for each of my kids,” she said. “My senior is doing fine but misses socializing at school. My sixth grader actually enjoys distance learning because she feels she doesn’t have to be bothered by the students who normally disrupt class. She currently has straight A’s.”
Compare that to Guerrero’s son in fourth grade, Noah.
“Since the start of this distance learning he cries daily and is not learning,” Guerrero said. “He does everything possible to get out of class. He cannot do his work independently and struggles with the computer. He now has daily headaches and complains that he sees the computer screen at night when he closes his eyes to go to sleep. I’ve had to make him an appointment for this. It’s hurting him mentally and emotionally.”
Asked if she would be willing to have her children return to in-person instruction, Guerrero said, “Yes! ASAP!”
HSD Trustee Rob Bernosky was the sole vote opposed to staying in the full distance learning model until at least Jan. 3.
“I believe that a great deal of our constituents cannot reconcile that we go to the grocery store, we go out to dinner, fly on airplanes, and given that commutes are returning to stop-and-go traffic, it appears that many are returning to their offices, yet we cannot have students and teachers that are willing to be in the classroom, to be in the classroom?” Bernosky asked. “We cannot figure out how to do that, even on a limited basis? That makes no sense at all, especially given that a lot of parents are struggling with distance learning.”
Though campuses in the Hollister School District have been closed since the shelter-in-place orders began in mid-March, the district appears to be preparing for a return to in-person instruction at some point next year. Signs on the exterior walls remind of social distancing and markers on the ground show students where to stand.
“The district has spent the last six months preparing for students to return to school,” Superintendent Diego Ochoa said. “Measures already in place include the acquisition of face coverings, special communication masks for staff working with children with disabilities, hand sanitizer, hand soap, hand washing stations, large wall-mounted COVID signage, floor COVID signage, air purifiers.” He added that the district has implemented COVID-19 reopening guidelines set by the California Department of Public Health. The district also has two school nurses and eight health clerks in place to address the daily concerns.
Asked if school board policies were in place to communicate with parents about exposure, Ochoa said, “Yes, the district has policies in place to address communicable diseases. When we reopen campuses, we will update all policies to address COVID.”
Nueman plans to continue to advocate for a reopening sooner rather than later, citing other schools and districts. Panoche, Cienega, Willow Grove, Tres Pinos and Jefferson Elementaries have had waivers approved since Aug. 20.
“Look at all these other schools that have opened up, where are the stories about infection rates spreading through students and teachers?” she asked. “My four-year-old has been in in-person learning since September and has 12 other students in her class. There have been no outbreaks and no COVID cases running rampant through her preschool. How come other schools can open but not ours?”
Neuman’s four-year-old daughter has attended the Hollister Presbyterian Co-Op Preschool since September when they were allowed to reopen as an essential business for their function as a daycare. When it comes to the decisions HSD makes, Neuman said, “Our input should definitely be a part of the decision. We see how our kids are actually doing in class. Parents see the daily struggles and frustration.”
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