‘My children belong in school’: Parents, students rally to reopen school buildings

From left, Wyatt Meisinger, Lea Jazdzewski and Cindy Meisinger hold signs during a protest to open schools at the Department of Education in Dover on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Tears and meltdowns, falling between the cracks, exhaustion from the screens.

Those were among the concerns parents had for their children — and themselves — as they gathered outside of the Delaware Department of Education Thursday in a rally to reopen schools.

“I can throw statistics at you all day long to combat everything that we’ve seen on the media. I can throw statistics to combat what Gov. [John] Carney has thrown at us,” said Appoquinimink parent Andrew Hayden, who is an ER nurse. “The number one statistic is ‘three’ to me. And that’s three children that mean more than anything in the world to me. And, again, if I thought that they were at risk, I would never, ever put them at risk. My children belong in school. Your children belong in school.”

The rally is one of several that have cropped up in Delaware since the majority of district schools opened with remote learning before phasing into hybrid — a mixture of in-person and remote instruction.

The scene at DOE wasn’t unfamiliar: Parents and legislative hopefuls gathered around the front steps of the building, with signs asking to return to school and American flags.

Several groups, like the one that hosted the event this week, Delaware Students Deserve to be in School, have formed to push for lessening the restrictions placed upon school leadership. In September, Appo Parents/Students for Having the CHOICE for School and Stand Up Delaware hosted a protest outside of Appoquinimink’s administrative buildings. Stand Up Delaware was also part of Thursday’s rally.

The parents hope that Gov. Carney — who greenlit hybrid instruction in early August — will allow for schools to open for five days a week, with the choice to keep students home or send them in.

Owen Smith of Magnolia holds a sign during Thursday’s protest to open schools at the Department of Education in Dover.

“I know that some of you are probably frustrated, feeling that teachers don’t work much right now,” said Deborah Remer, an educator. “I can guarantee you that this is not the case.”

Ms. Remer, who is also a parent, explained she arrives earlier to school than ever before, spending hours planning lessons for students, learning new technology and ways to help them be successful.

“But at the end of the day, I’m failing my students. I’m failing our children,” she said. “When a child repeatedly gets kicked off of a Zoom, how can she learn? When a child can’t remember how to access the website they need for that homework they’re supposed to work on independently, how can they learn? When a child is facing crippling depression, brought on by an extended time of isolation, how can they learn? This is the reality and we’re calling it school. But no matter how intense our efforts, we are failing our students.”

Stand Up Delaware director Lisa McCulley speaks to protesters.

Jessica Rosser, a parent from the Cape Henlopen School District, is an emergency medical technician and works overnight. She comes home at 7 a.m. and must stay up with her children as they start the school day, making sure they’re able to access online.

“It has been so stressful, so exhausting. I have meltdowns myself,” she said.

Her children struggle, too, she added.

“I have been advocating for the state of Delaware to open since April. It has taken a toll on my mental health and every day has been a struggle. Now that school is back in session, it has gotten even worse,” she said. “My kids are struggling every single day; my 6-year-old daughter, Sophia, she has meltdowns every day. They’re expecting my 6-year-old daughter, who has never been in a classroom before, to talk on a Zoom meeting with complete strangers.”

Benjamin Landfred holds a sign during the rally.

The rally drew parents from across the state — like Ms. Rosser from downstate — to up north, like Mary Cole and Denise Cunningham, who have children in the Charter School of Wilmington.

“Virtual learning is subpar,” Ms. Cole said. “Our children, who are freshmen, are missing out on socialization.”

Thursday’s demonstration wasn’t without politics, too. Legislative candidates Dan Zitofsky, running for 8th District state representative; Lee Murphy, candidate for U.S. Congress; and Julianne Murray, candidate for governor, were among the speakers.

“This is not about a public health crisis. This is political at this point, and that is what it needs to be called,” Ms. Murray said.

Tristan Germann, founder of Delaware Students Deserve to be in School and a parent who organized the rally, agreed.

“As much as I wish this decision didn’t fall into politics, it does,” he told the crowd. “Unfortunately, the only states that still have a governor-induced barrier to proper in-person education are eight of the 24 states run by Democratic party governors, just like Delaware.”

Also Thursday, the Republican Party of Delaware gathered on the steps of Bancroft Elementary School in Wilmington to outline a plan to improve education.

Founder of Students Deserve to Be in School Tristan Germann speaks to protesters during the event.

The party proposed that schools open five days a week, meanwhile establishing a statewide remote learning school for those who may need — or prefer — to work online and expanding charter and school choice to embrace the charter model.

Additionally, the plan calls for education savings accounts to “allow parents to withdraw their children from public or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts.” The funds would cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses and more.

Last, the party calls for bolstering support for homeschooling and that for DOE “should consider this a valid option for students and parents, and support their efforts by allowing a share of their allocation to go for books, other materials and tutoring.”

“Our proposals are intended to improve access to a superb learning experience and to provide choices for parents to select the education model that works best for their child,” Jane Brady, chairwoman of the party, said in a prepared statement. “Our list is not exhaustive, but it is achievable, and we should make these goals our benchmark for how well we care for our children’s future.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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