Lewis County parents made an emotional plea for county officials to reopen schools during a Sept. 14 meeting, detailing the many challenges they’ve faced with online learning since school started two weeks ago. Outside the meeting, their young children carried signs reading “OPEN OUR SCHOOLS!”
The county’s current recommendation is that schools allow in-person classes for kindergarten and middle and high school technical classes. Earlier this month, county officials told the public that the recommendation would be revisited monthly.
“We are not even two weeks into online learning and my children and I are all ready to quit,” Alicia Howard, mother of five, told county officials. “So by the time you get to that next recommendation in four weeks, we may have already quit. We will not be engaged at all. We will be tapped out.”
Since Howard does not have reliable internet, her first grader can’t attend online class, and was given a thumb drive loaded with pre-recorded videos and lessons. But Howard described searching through the unorganized drive for 20 minutes before finding the correct material.
“To say that this is not functional is an understatement,” she said.
Parents described unreliable internet, impossible work schedules, the mental health of their kids, as well as an inferior quality of education.
“If our parents have to get to work, what are they supposed to do?” Winlock mom Renee Robinette said, rocking an infant. “They can’t be two places at once.”
Dawn Miles described her elementary-aged daughter coming to her in tears, unable to understand the material.
“It’s mentally draining our children not being in school,” Miles said. “They’ve been thrown into educational chaos, that’s what I call it.”
Several parents also told county officials that their children’s Zoom calls have been “hacked” and inundated with inappropriate and pornographic material — something Commissioner Bobby Jackson has raised concern about in the past.
One Winlock mother, Summer Keene, said her daughter was exposed to such material on her first day of seventh grade this year.
“The very first class, after the pledge of allegiance, the teacher is trying to do roll (call), and all of a sudden some very pornographic words came over the screen. My daughter was fortunately not one of the ones who clicked on the link,” Keene said. “My seventh grade daughter, who’s 12 years old … burst into tears. It was the worst moment of my entire adult life.”
Keene said a similar incident happened a second time before the school transitioned to a new software. But Keene and her husband are still wary about their child’s security online, and have stopped letting her to turn on the front camera during online class. Keene also described an assignment that made her uncomfortable — the teacher asked students to record a video of themselves answering questions and send it in for him to review.
“We’re taking a zero. We did not do that assignment,” Keene said.
Robinette echoed the sentiment, arguing that the internet is not a safe place for children.
The group of parents demanded to have more say in the county’s decision process, which is currently headed by the Lewis County Schools Workgroup, composed of superintendents, pediatricians, and public health officials. County commissioners expressed support for the idea.
“I’m thankful I don’t have a child in the school district,” Commissioner Edna Fund said. “I’d probably be out there right with you guys.”
Although most Lewis County schools are engaged in distance learning, the Mossyrock School District is operating under a hybrid model, and Boistfort School District voted over the weekend to begin offering in-person classes to all 91 of its students.
Parents Monday said they’re envious of Mossyrock, and Commissioner Jackson said he’s hopeful other districts will follow suit despite the county’s recommendations otherwise.