Many Lawrence parents protest for fully in-person learning amid ongoing pandemic

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

About 40 to 50 parents and their children gathered at the Lawrence school district administrative offices Monday, Oct. 17, 2020, to protest the district's handling of education amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The parents called for moving back to fully in-person learning and criticized the district for its rollout and communication of its hybrid learning transition plan.

Many Lawrence parents convened on Monday to protest against the Lawrence school district’s ongoing method of education, calling for schools to further move back to full in-person learning.

Between 40 and 50 parents and their children held signs in front of the school district’s administrative offices calling for fully in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. The district began a transition period on Monday to have all students eventually return to classrooms through a hybrid learning model, allowing for students to attend in-person classes two-times a week at the elementary and middle school levels and once a week at the high school level.

Some parents who were protesting Monday said they believe the district should move to fully in-person learning because the district needs to be more concerned with their children’s education and mental health than the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

“The children are falling behind,” said Stacey Kehoe, a Lawrence parent whose daughter is in third grade. “Her education and her mental health is much more important than a very minute possibility of a virus that has not really (hurt young people).”

However, guidance from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health currently recommends schools use hybrid learning methods. On Thursday, the health department announced its guidance remained in the yellow tier — which calls for hybrid learning and prohibiting “high risk” activities — for an eighth straight week.

The parents’ protest comes two weeks after Lawrence educators protested the district’s plan to move to hybrid in-person learning. The district was originally scheduled to begin hybrid learning on Monday, but recently announced a gradual transition plan for middle school and high school students, which began Monday, and pushed back the start for most elementary schools until Nov. 9.

Becca Koester, a Lawrence parent of three elementary students, said she felt the district’s handling and communication of the changing methods has been poor.

“My kindergartner and third grader were supposed to go to school today,” Koester said, referring to the original Oct. 19 start date for hybrid learning. “We’re confused and we’re having to scramble to get care for our children.”

In light of the protest, school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said the district is working to bring students back to classrooms, noting some middle and high school students began using the hybrid learning method on Monday. The district will use a four-week transition period that gradually moves students to the hybrid learning method. At the elementary level, New York and Woodlawn will begin hybrid learning on Thursday, while the rest will begin on Nov. 9.

“The district’s goal is to get students back in school safely, and we continue to work toward that goal,” Boyle said.

While Koester said she accepts a transition plan for students to return to in-person learning, she said she wants the district to eventually work toward fully in-person instruction, which has not yet been planned. She said she and many other parents want to send their kids to school five times a week and about 400 of them are in a Facebook group that plans to continue demonstrating.

“We’ve felt underrepresented,” Koester said of the protesting parents. “I think out of fear of being outspoken and misunderstood, we have not been heard.”

Meanwhile, other parents at the protest said they want fully in-person learning now, noting they believed their children are falling behind academically.

Kacy Postlethwait, a mother of two elementary students, said she wants the district to offer more options for students. While the district is offering parents the option to keep their children in fully remote learning, Postlethwait said she believes parents should also have the choice to go fully in-person.

Currently, Postlethwait has her children using home-school options because she didn’t want her children to be taught through the district’s first six weeks of fully remote learning. She said she believes that kind of virtual learning is not healthy for their developing brains or a quality version of education.

However, she said she would much prefer having her children attend Lawrence schools in person than learning from her at home.

“This is nothing against the teachers; this is not a teacher problem. This is a strategy problem,” Postlethwait said. “We love our school, we love our teachers and I want nothing more than to offer my kids five days a week in their school that they love.”

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