As NJ’s In-School COVID Cases Rise, Parents Welcome New Remote Instruction Advocate

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Parents in New Jersey have advocated for remote learning options during this pandemic, only to be ignored by Governor Murphy, who has implemented a remote learning ban. This remote learning ban has left vulnerable students and their families with inferior home instruction. Still, in the grips of the pandemic, parents worry for their students’ access to instruction and continuity in education.

That’s Tillie Elvrum, founder of the “The Folding Chair Project,” part of the national non-profit called “Parent Support for Online Learning” that aims to help students and their families “find success in the online learning environment and through Parent Support for Online Learning playing a pivotal role in the re-imagination of education to serve all students.” The initiative began when schools shut down in March 2020 and parents found themselves forced to play teacher. While some rejoice in district reopenings, others (as cited in an article today) have discovered over the last year and a half that their treasured local schools are “more broken than they thought.”

  • Or their children learned more online than they did during in-person education.
  • Or  their children with anxiety or spectrum disorders were happier at home than in school.
  • Or their families with an immuno-compromised member felt safer without exposure to the latest variant of COVID-19.
  • Or a lifestyle they hadn’t tried before turned out to be a better fit than the the rigid seat-time required in traditional schools.

These discoveries led a cohort of parents, from 2020 onward (Tillie’s Facebook page has 6.7K members) to embrace online learning. But Gov. Murphy has banned remote instruction for NJ’s 600 school districts, with exceptions only for quarantines. Now that schools are open, the Folding Chair Project will serve as “a forum to share perspectives on education reform, school choice, and parent advocacy”:

Parents still find themselves fighting for a seat at the table, and far too often, powerful and influential special interests drown out their voices. Parents are treated as passive participants in their children’s education rather than rightful stakeholders. And even after the recent focus on education in elections across the country, we still have parents fighting to get their voices heard.

In New Jersey, parents have indeed been fighting for a seat at the table.  New Jersey Parent for Virtual Choice (much in Tillie’s mode) pleads through a petition with 27,600 signatures that Gov. Murphy allow virtual options like 38 other  states and 79% of districts surveyed by the Center for Reinventing Education. Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education issued a resolution calling on Murphy to allow remote learning. Eight-year old Jayden Almazan’s parents are raising their voices because they had to disenroll him from school to protect his little sister, who has Down Syndrome and is immuno-compromised. Shanna Givens of Jersey City, who is immuno-compromised herself, writes to Gov. Murphy, ““we are so scared and it is causing stress on our already stressful lives.”

Today Wall Township Superintendent Tracy Handerhan announced the district Intermediate School was going to virtual instruction (allowed because the school is typically open) because in the last 3 days 27 students have tested positive for COVID. Five schools in Union Township are open half-time due to rising COVID numbers. Last week, according to the Star-Ledger, NJ  schools reported 3,024 new positive student cases and 858 new positive cases among teachers and school staff. “That is 2.66 cases among every 1,000 students and 4.41 cases among every 1,000 school staff members, by far the highest infection rates since New Jersey began publicly tracking the school data in September. The rising number of school cases comes as the state has been reporting its highest seven-day average for positive cases since April.”

Schools have to be cookie-cutter in their approaches to learning. We know this. But do parents have the right to opt out, even those without the resources to set up in-person educational centers? Tillie says they do. If you agree, time to pull out a folding chair and demand a seat at the table.

 

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