A group of Bedford parents eager for their children to have more time in the classroom hosted a car rally outside the school district offices Monday, some honking their horns as the school board met to discuss reopening plans.
“The point of (Monday’s) event was to start actively showing that perhaps the administrators and decision-makers were only hearing from the minority and not, in actuality, the majority,” said Val Naftali, a Bedford parent. “It was a call to start getting those who do want more in-person schooling to have their voices heard.”
About 40 vehicles participated in the rally, which included parent representatives from the district’s schools.
“I am the first to recognize that there are other opinions to this argument and I accept that. I do not want to discount anyone’s opinions,” said Naftali. “ … However, the silent majority is no longer going to be silent.”
In a parent survey distributed before the start of the school year, about 63% — about 2,000 of 3,196 respondents — indicated they would prefer in-person schooling with precautionary measures. Naftali said it’s time for another survey to gauge the thoughts of parents.
The Bedford School District has been in a hybrid learning platform since the end of August, with grades kindergarten through eighth grade attending either two or three in-person days per week. At the high school level, students are attending about 75 minutes per day of in-person learning four days a week; this plan is changing in mid-February when students will attend two hours of in-person instruction four days a week.
While this model is not perfect, it has been successful, said Robert Buxton, a Bedford parent. He encouraged school officials not to rush into implementing additional in-person learning, noting it could result in teacher shortages because of less social distancing and possibly more quarantines.
An all in-school model would potentially increase risks associated with COVID-19, stressed Buxton.
“Please, don’t listen to the squeaky wheel,” he told the board, thanking the teachers for working hard to make the hybrid model successful.
But for Keely McMonigle, a student at Bedford High, hybrid learning has been challenging, unfulfilling and overwhelming.
“The workload has not lessened, but gotten worse,” said McMonigle, adding she is deprived of all social connections and her mental health has plummeted. “ … I am not alone on this.”
Autumn Haskell, a Bedford parent with three children, said the hybrid option is failing. She asked that a full-time option be offered immediately for those families that are interested.
“Teachers help build a foundation for their youth. That foundation is crumbling,” said Haskell, adding Bedford must provide its children with the best education possible.
Cindy Chagnon, a school board member, acknowledged that while there are people in support of returning to fully in-person instruction, there are also parents who are opposed.
She said the district received 27 emails prior to Monday’s school board meeting from parents who are pleased or content with the existing hybrid plan.
Julie Morris, whose son is a freshman at Bedford High, said her trust with the school district has been shaken throughout the past week after her son learned about the revised high school schedule before parents were informed.
While she knows that full-day school is best for her son, Morris said she cannot in good conscience put her child in a situation where he is the guinea pig. With classroom time set to nearly double later next month at the high school, Morris asked what would be done to mitigate the risks, questioning whether the district could ask for COVID-19 testing.
“I think that we are trying to move forward in a way that is thoughtful,” said Superintendent Mike Fournier, adding the district will keep its schools open, but will not put that in jeopardy by trying to reopen too fast.
“We have seen success and I want to continue building on that success,” said the superintendent.