To Whom It May Concern:
My son goes to strong Vincent Middle School in Erie PA. He is in 8th grade. He has not set foot in school since March 2020. He is begging to return and is not doing well via online computer teaching and frankly watching some of these “classes” they learn nothing! I am not the only parent with concerns. My son struggles with online learning due to his ADD and Auditory Processing Disorder diagnosis. He does not qualify for “special students” status for kids with autism or severe disabilities to go to school daily. His building is NOT occupied by elementary kids and meets all safety issues and COVID-19 guidelines. The School district refuses to open just Strong Vincent Middle School with the Elementary schools on February 1st. (While the other two City of Erie middle schools are allegedly being used for elementary kids due to a fire in October in the basement of a maintenance room that was supposed to be “fixed in two months” per Superintendent Polito. It has now been 3 and half months and they claim the elementary schools are still not fixed.
I am a licensed mental health therapist for over 10 years, and I am seeing more and more kids that are suffering anxiety, depression, isolation, and suicidal thoughts because the City of Erie will not let them back to school and it is really hurting their mental health. These kids need socialization and structure! The added benefit of opening our schools is that parents can return to work as we try to rebuild this city back up. This city has been so badly hurt by Governor Wolf’s shutdowns and putting COVID-19 patients in nursing homes. It has been established kid’s education outweighs concerns of COVID-19 and difficult to transmit from child to adult.
Even though the Board of Education is saying “kids up to age 14 need to be in school”, our 6-8th grade kids are not included in reopening. I believe if even one middle school can open, then it should be open along with the February 1st start date. If they claim some teachers have been using that middle school, I am sure they can accommodate them at the Elementary schools that are allegedly not completely repaired by fire damage as it should be done by now or close to it and/or come up with empty spaces to use such as Erie Insurance with all the extra money Biden suddenly is sending them. Parents do not understand why those students at Strong Vincent school cannot attend in person!
I read the following article earlier: “The Tennessee GOP, disturbed that the Nashville and Memphis public school districts have not returned to in-person classes, has filed a bill that would permit Tennessee’s education commissioner to yank some or all of a school district’s state funding if the district doesn’t offer at least 70 days of in-person K-8 classes by the end of the 2020-2021 school year and the full 180 days for next school year.” Also stating “This has everything to do with our kids and them getting a good education. In order to do that, they need an in-person option. That does not mean every child has to be in every school. That means the option must be there”. Regarding funding: “Then they don’t need as much money for their school system if it’s all virtual, I mean it literally cost less money to do a virtual school system instead of an in-person school system. And so, we’re really allocating our resources to those schools that are stepping up and meeting state policy.”
Please can you help Republican leaders to also file a bill for this?? EVERY school district in Erie County has been open K-12 since September EXCEPT City of Erie schools. They claimed it was “due to ventilation needing updated/replaced” and “kids (at least elementary) were to return Nov 1, 2020, and middle and high school at the beginning of the new year. This did not happen even though schools met all safety standards and completed the work required. I do not think it helps that my City is Democrat-run and so is 98% of the school board. I’ve spoken to the school board, sent emails, called and their response is always “we are following CDC and PA Board of Education recommendations”. If that is the case, why are ALL the other school districts open? Maybe because it is recommended only? Even the Biden administration signed to open all schools and give even more funding to each school to ensure they open. What is the point of more funding anyway when these schools have met the guidelines and safety measures to be open since September?! Sounds like City of Erie Schools will get more funding, but it cost so much less money to do virtual classrooms. What will they do with this extra money since they are set up to open? Fact: McDowell high school and middle school (in the same building) are open, and they have over 500 kids per grade! Fact: Erie School Board is putting kids playing sports ahead of their education. Allegedly, Erie High and Collegiate Academy are also suitable to be opened for our high school kids! All these kids are missing out on some of the most important learning experience and life experience needed at their ages! These years are the most impressionable years of their lives.
Arguments I hear on why they will not open involve “not enough teachers” and “not enough teachers if they are exposed and have to quarantine”. Solution: Those teachers who are not sick and have to quarantine can teach from home to kids in school with a volunteer parent and/or substitute to monitor the classroom. I’m sure college kids in the education field would be willing participants if need, especially Gannon Students since they are already had programs with Strong Vincent last year. Also, contracts with outside agencies and their staff could be of assistance if needed. And utilize this extra money being sent to pay people for help. Even better, members of the school board must be available to monitor classrooms! CDC now says, “Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring”. They also say “When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring. The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation”. CDC also says for suspected, possible, or exposure to Covid-19, “Individuals who had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) are to follow recommendations”. “If greater than 6 feet away, they are not considered exposed”. So, if the teacher stays more than 6 feet from children, does not sound like they need to isolate if someone is exposed or believed to be. Just means teachers are stationary at the back of the room or front with projectors. Or teachers must always quarantine during the week they teach and be tested weekly just like nurses are at the nursing home. I am sure if the schools asked for more ideas, more would emerge.
Again, please help get our kids back into school before it is to late so parents can return to their jobs. I am sure if daycares have figured this out, so can the schools.
Please help our kids!
Courtney Oblinski, MA, NCC, LPC
~parent advocating for my son and other kids!