MOORESTOWN, NJ — Just days into the new school year, about 300 parents have signed onto a letter asking the Moorestown Public School District to alter its method for teaching remote students who are not getting parallel instruction as the school reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Board of Education discussed the letter during Tuesday night’s meeting before voting to approve the district’s return to school plan. The vote was 8-1, with Board Member Mark Villanueva casting the dissenting vote. Villanueva said his wife was one of the people who signed the letter.
“There are things I don’t like about this plan that I can deal with, but this is a deal breaker for me,” Villanueva said.
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The district’s plan calls for a mix of in-person and remote learning for Moorestown students. The hybrid plan calls for students to attend school for half a day twice a week and learn remotely the rest of the time.
The district uses parallel learning, for Grades 7-12. Under this model, students at home are zoomed into a classroom that is taught by a teacher that is either teaching in a classroom or, in some cases, teaching from his or her home.
In Moorestown, there are different iterations of the parallel structure, but the essence of it is that a student working from home is getting live instruction from a teacher. In grades 7-12, that is happening all day.
The model for Grades K-6 is not parallel instruction. The plan provides for a morning meeting for each class, in which kids working remotely are zoomed in for about 20-30 minutes with the class that is in the building.
Students learning remotely, and then do independent work for the rest of the day, while the teachers instruct students in the buildings. The plan contemplates that the at-home cohort of students may receive synchronous instruction, but it is not a parallel model.
Opponents of this structure are concerned that there does not appear to be a defined number of hours that students in Grades K-6 will receive synchronous instruction. See related: Moorestown School Reopen Plan Includes In-Person, Remote Learning
The district maintains that older students are a better fit for the parallel model, and that they had discussions about the issue before making a decision.
Former Moorestown Mayor Manny Delgado pointed to a portion of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order that said asynchronous learning needs to be phased in gradually for Grades 6-8. Before that, children need more structure in their learning.
“It’s not gradual (in Moorestown),” Delgado said. “On remote days, students are getting zero teacher time. This is concerning.”
The district said it’s early in the year, and everyone is still getting adjusted to the new learning environment.
“We knew on Day 1 and Day 2 we wouldn’t have full implementation of the program,” Moorestown Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott McCartney said. “Students still need to get reacclimated to the schools. They haven’t been here since March. There are still additional things we want to see happen, and we will roll out more programs this week.”
He said there’s a certain amount of time that needs to go by to allow the process to unfold. He said they aren’t ready to change the design yet because it’s still early in the year.
“We have to make an intelligent decision,” McCartney said. “We have to live through part of the design. Otherwise, we’re always in the design stage.”
Cheryl Markopolous co-authored the letter, and said the parents feel their children are being short-changed. Other parents told her they were reaching out to the district and getting no response, so they sent the letter.
“It’s not a petition. The goal was to start a conversation to get to a solution,” Markopolous said. “It feels like no one is listening still.”
Earlier in the meeting, Board of Education President Sandra Aliberti acknowledged the district needed to do better.
“We didn’t hit the expectations the community held for us,” Aliberti said. “Everyone’s working hard, but we must do better. We let down the kids in the community.”
Aliberti said the board will discuss changes in committees, but no changes were being made yet.
“Many parents have said they get it, but we understand we didn’t hit the mark for some families,” McCartney said. “We have discussed how and when we will hit that mark.”
One parent said they had since March to make get ready for this, and that it being early in the school year was not a valid excuse.
Parents said they weren’t criticizing teachers, just the plan. Before casting his vote, Villanueva urged other board members to join him.
“If we say this is not OK, that we think students in all grades should get parallel instruction, our teachers and administrators will make sure it happens,” Villanueva said. “They won’t need to do it if we don’t ask.”
Board member David Weinstein was concerned about the cost of pushing the plan back and making changes, but he does support continuing to make changes to the plan.
“There are things everyone truly dislikes about this plan, but it’s not enough to make me vote against it,” Weinstein said. “We will work to improve the plan, and I’m willing to push to make it better.”