‘I feel we’re going in circles’: Fairfield parents split on delaying full in-person learning
FAIRFIELD — Parents made emotional pleas to the school board this week about whether their children should be able to return to school fully in person or remain in the hybrid model.
The public hearing came days after Fairfield School District officials announced their decision to postpone their plans to return elementary school students to full-time, in person education next month, and instead continue with the hybrid learning plan.
Officials opted to delay their plans after a spike in COVID-19 infections in the community, resulting in Fairfield being placed on the state’s list of red-alert towns. The board called a special meeting for the public to call in and be able to comment on school matters in light of the postponement — the first hearing since the pandemic began.
Opinions varied, with some showing support for the decision to not open elementary schools in November. Others said they felt students’ educational, mental and emotional needs were not being met in the current program.
Ann Harvey, a caller, said she supported Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings, the Board of Education and the school district even when she might not agree with them.
“I am not shy about advocacy,” she said. “I can also start a petition and get hundreds of signatures, but the integrity of the process matter most to me. We do not make decisions based on majority rule. We don’t all raise our hands, town hall-style, and vote on any number of matters affecting our schools.”
Harvey called the district and board fully-transparent and accountable, adding the community’s voices are being heard. While she understands some parents’ frustrations with schooling during the pandemic, she said she has seen people sharing mean and unfounded allegations about the board and district.
“The meanness I read is shameful,” Harvey said. “There is no deep state here — only principled citizens and educators serving our town. Please let them do their job, whether it is to your individual liking.”
Kristen Frame, another person who spoke during the hearing, said she had three children in the school district, adding she respected the work the district put into planning.
“But, with due respect, I feel we’re going in circles and not moving the ball forward,” she said. “We’re not asking you to be reckless, but our health care reality in (the) spring versus now is not even comparable. Somehow flatten the curve has turned into eliminate the disease.”
Some parents questioned how long working parents are supposed to be able to handle the hybrid program, saying remote learning is not working.
“I am pleading with you to reopen our schools to full-time, in-person learning,” Kim Grant, another caller, said. “It is in the best interest of our children’s academic, social and mental well-being. At the very least, our K-8 kids need to be back in school.”
Amy Ruggerio echoed that sentiment, asking the district to begin reopening on Nov. 9 as planned if the data improves. With one child in high school and the other in elementary school, she said she felt the district should have done in-person school since the beginning of the year.
“We are not keeping up with the other towns, and the public education in the town is suffering,” she said, later adding she was concerned about the mental health of students. “Private schools are in session full-time and there’s a widening in the gap between have and have-nots.”
Still, other parents, such as Jessica Iannacone, said she did not believe the district should be sending students into full-time learning.
“I’m shocked that this is even being discussed,” she said. “Fairfield cases have been steadily increasing. Now, neighboring towns are also rising. Norwalk, who is also in the red-zone, is considering moving into full-remote, per their superintendent and their mayor.”
The state moving Fairfield into red-alert was the result of it having a two-week average daily coronavirus case rate above 15 per 100,000 people. Fairfield’s rate was 19.6 between Oct. 4 and Oct. 17, according to state data.
The increase was primarily attributed to an outbreak in cases among Fairfield University students. The state advises towns with a rate of 25 per 100,000 people to consider switching their schools to distance learning.
In its regular meeting, Cummings said there is no one metric or checklist that clears schools for full reopening.
“I don't think there's a universal green light, as it were,” he said, adding there needed to be a decreasing trend in cases that show the virus’s spread is under control.