Citing surge of COVID, some Stamford parents want remote learning back - but the state won't allow it

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — Jodi Clark-Lopez’s son hasn’t been inside a Stamford school building since March 2020 and she’d like to keep it that way for the time being.

But with the state recently telling school districts that remote learning will not be allowed in the fall, Clark-Lopez and other parents are left to make the tough decision of sending their children back into buildings, or shifting to homeschooling.

Clark-Lopez created a petition late last week calling for a distance learning option when school resumes at the end of this month. By early Monday afternoon, roughly 100 people had signed it.

The letter reads, “In light of current events, we feel that our children and families will be put into a precarious and dangerous position if they were to return to in person schooling before a vaccine is approved for them.”

Currently, only people who are 12 years of age or older can secure the COVID-19 vaccine.

The highly contagious delta variant of the virus has contributed to rising numbers of infected children across the country. While the chances of a child experiencing serious symptoms still remain low, there have been many cases nationally of young children having to go to the hospital, and in more severe cases, dying from the virus.

Clark-Lopez’s son Isaac is going to turn 12 in early November, making him eligible for the vaccine. She’d prefer to wait out the first few months of the school year in distance learning.

“Why can’t all the kids choose to do it if that’s their choice?” she asked. “We should be given the option because they can’t get vaccinated.”

She added, “These are our kids’ lives. Even if one life is lost, it’s way too many.”

Last month, when the option of remote learning still seemed possible, the school district sent out a survey to families. Among the questions was whether or not distance learning should stay.

According to Katherine Murphy, a data manager for Stamford Cradle to Career, the survey results showed that about 970 parents, or 22 percent of those with children between kindergarten and seventh grade, said they would use remote learning if offered.

Last year, Stamford created a standalone Distance Teaching and Learning Academy, or DTLA. The academy had its own roster of teachers, for the most part, and students in the program received instruction entirely online during the year. About a fourth of all students were in the academy, though that number declined significantly toward the end of the school year once school buildings re-opened to fulltime in-person instruction.

Even though the distance learning academy is currently not in the works for the fall, remote learning will not be entirely eliminated in Stamford.

In her weekly message, Superintendent Tamu Lucero said students who are forced to quarantine or isolate would be able to follow along virtually with their classes from home.

In that same communication, Lucero laid out the basics of the district’s reopening plan, which will include requiring students and staff to wear a mask inside school buildings and on school buses. The protocols also call for social distancing of at least three feet in all classrooms, and six feet with a barrier when students take off their masks to eat or drink.

“As mentioned in an earlier message, to date, there is no option for general remote learning in Connecticut,” she wrote. “However, all school districts are required to consider specific individual student needs and develop plans for individual families, as applicable.”

David Bednarz, spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont, could not immediately be reached for comment.

While there have been plenty of stories of students struggling in distance learning, and many being completely disengaged with school, some students thrived in the at-home model.

Clark-Lopez counts her son as one of those students.

Chris Lehew, the father of twin 7-year-olds, also raved about the experience his children received with remote learning.

His children are reading at a second grade level, he said, thanks to the small group instruction they received online from a literacy specialist at the school.

“We couldn’t be happier,” he said, of the experience, while recognizing that his children are missing out on the social aspect of school.

Still, with the delta variant gaining steam, Lehew said he wondered why there doesn’t seem to be the same level of safety and hesitancy in re-opening schools as there was last year.

“Delta is a whole different animal and all the mitigation factors we put into school last year — why wouldn’t we do it this time?” he asked. “I can’t think of a rational reason why you would want to do it last year and not this year.”

He’s concerned that unvaccinated students in tight quarters will only result in greater spread of the virus.

“Some kids are going to get really sick in this district,” he said.

Both Clark-Lopez and Lehew said they are seriously considering home schooling for the next semester, as remote learning seems unlikely with just two weeks left before Stamford schools reopen.

“I know there is an option for the home schooling,” Clark-Lopez said. “But I’m not a teacher.”