Talawanda parents upset by remote learning protest, ask for return to school

Young Talawanda students were out early in a chilly morning in support of their parents seeking a return to face-to-face classroom learning. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

OXFORD – Parents upset by problems with remote learning staged a protest in front of the Talawanda School District administration office Wednesday urging the board to reopen for face-to-face classes.

Using the theme “Hear our voice, Give us a choice,” parents were on the sidewalk in front of the board office from 7 to 8:30 a.m. with plans to be back from 3 to 4:30 and 6 to 8 p.m. Participants expressed frustration with problems using internet learning during the district’s coronavirus-prevention strategy, as well as the lack of personal interaction with teachers and other students.

The district provided mobile hot spots to students in areas of the district where the internet is unavailable or poor but participants Wednesday said their children regularly experience drops in service during online classes or get poor reception in homes where several children are using the internet at the same time.

“I have a fourth-grader. It’s a struggle. The teachers are great but the Zoom meetings are a problem. She struggles with math,” said Mendey Napier, whose daughter, Emma, is a student at Bogan Elementary. “She really wants to go back to school. She can’t understand why her cousins and some of her friends in other school districts can go to school. She wants to know.”

Napier, who is a nurse and works weekends, said the situation was different in the spring when schools closed in March.

“I slept in the guest room then (because of being a nurse) but now she says, ‘Things are better now, right?’ She misses her teacher. She is an only child and it’s no fun living with her mother. She wants to be with her friends,” Napier said.

The protests by some at Talawanda Schools highlight some of the difficulties experienced by other local districts as they adjust to an unprecedented attempts to educate thousands of students via remote learning rather than in classrooms as part of coronavirus prevention strategies.

Joining Talawanda in starting the school year with all remote learning are Middletown and New Miami Schools locally. Some other area districts have adopted hybrid schedules that alternate between in-person classes and remote learning depending on the day of the week.

The spotlight will remain on all Ohio schools today as Gov. Mike DeWine is scheduled to release information regarding state orders for schools to provide regular updates for the public on the number of students and staffers who test positive for the coronavirus.

Standing nearby, Thomas Ellison said he is the father of multiple Talawanda children who have trouble with Zoom classes getting dropped when they are all on at the same time. He echoed that.

“We’re a rural school district. Neighboring districts are back in. Zoom calls drop constantly,” he said.

One of the organizers of what was variously described as a protest and a rally was Jody Asher, who said the event came about because of parents expressing their frustration on social media.

“It’s hard for the kids dealing with remote learning,” Asher said, noting they formed a Facebook group to share their stories and that led to Wednesday’s protest. “I’m not saying the school is not trying. They are doing the best they can, based on a decision by the board. I do not think anyone has a beef with the teachers or the schools.

"We see schools going back face-to-face and do not seem to having problems. Lakota is three times bigger and they are not having problems. Mason is bigger. We are not having the outbreak we were told we were afraid of. There’s no hundreds of people in quarantine. We just want the option to go face-to-face. As parents, we want the option.”

He said he has three children – a third grader, sixth grader and eighth grader – and the older two have fall sports to interact with friends, but the younger one is having a hard time with no outside social activities.

Asher said a problem with the current situation is with special needs students on IEPs, who are not getting the help they need. That was a discussion in their Facebook group, he said.

He said the focus of the protests Wednesday was to let the board know where the parents stand on the remote learning issue.

“We want our voices heard,” he said. “I think they are better off with face-to-face. We are not getting the feedback from the teachers. They seem to doing okay but we do not know for certain.”

Napier said taking part Wednesday was a first for her.

“I’ve never done anything like this before but to see your kid cry and be frustrated, desperate times call for desperate measures,” she said. “They’re so isolated. We got together to make signs and I’ve never seen Emma so happy.”

Several young students were in the group on the sidewalk Wednesday morning and by using a pulling down motion encouraged drivers going by to honk their horns, shouting thanks to the many who did so.

“Beep, beep for Talawanda,” one of them shouted often while another told drivers to, “Beep your horn. Give us credit for being out in the cold.”

Asher summed up the effort asking for the board to give parents the option.

“I think we are better off with face-to-face,” he said. “Mentally, a lot of kids do not do well with it.”

CONTINUING COVERAGE

The Journal-News has used reporters in our communities for weeks to cover the return of students to school and the challenges that has created. We will follow today’s expected release of coronavirus data by local districts closely to tell you what you need to know.

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