CAMAS — Several Camas School District families rallied Tuesday afternoon to pressure district officials to allow students to return to the classroom in person.
The rally, organized by a group calling itself “Open Camas Schools,” took place outside the Camas School District Building, 841 N.E. 22nd Ave. About 30 people stood in front of the building, conversed and held signs. All but a couple of them wore masks.
Parents expressed frustration with how they say remote learning has impacted their students’ education and mental health. Sign messages included: “S.O.S. Save our schools. Save our students,” “No more screens,” “Save our children. Educate in person” and “The hearts and minds of our kids are suffering.”
“Kids aren’t getting a real education,” said Marcus Wyckoff, father of a first-grader. “That’s a fact.”
Some parents have threatened to withdraw students from the district if students aren’t allowed to return, in at least a hybrid reopening scenario, by January. Supporters of the protest have pointed to issues for some children such as lack of internet access and abusive home situations.
Mindy O’Neil is the mother of a second-grader, who is attending school remotely, and two preschoolers, who are attending in person.
“My second-grader is at home watching his brothers go to school, and I just feel like his mental health is suffering. His confidence is suffering,” O’Neil said.
The school district held a virtual town hall meeting Monday night about remote learning and the re-opening plan. Before and after the meeting, the district hosted an online forum that drew hundreds of responses. Views were mixed, though the majority supported a continuation of the reopening process that aligns with public health guidance.
Superintendent Jeff Snell said in a statement Tuesday that the district recognizes that “this is a challenging time for everyone” and “that the pandemic has affected all of our families uniquely.”
“We understand the value of in-person learning experiences and have been incrementally increasing the number of students served that way within the recommendations from the Washington State Department of Health. We also value input from our community — students, staff and families,” Snell said. “My hope is that we can rally together in our community and every other community on behalf of our students, drive down transmission rates and get all of our kids back in school.”
The group also called for students to take part in a technology blackout Tuesday by not logging into their classes remotely, doing homework or engaging in class work.
District spokeswoman Doreen McKercher said that absences and grading on Tuesday would be handled in the usual manner.
“During remote learning, students have multiple ways to demonstrate participation such as attending a live class, turning in assignments, contacting the teacher, using digital sign in sheets, etc.,” McKercher said. “If students do none of those things, they are marked absent.”
The school district Board of Directors approved its remote learning plan in August.
McKercher said at the time that the district hoped to prioritize in-person reopening for primary school students and students with special education needs before eventually implementing a hybrid model for all students. She added, though, that the virus’ trajectory would determine when that was possible.
The school district allowed kindergartners to return Nov. 9 in a hybrid format.
The reopening plan is based on state Department of Health guidelines. Under the guidelines, more than 75 cases per 100,000 people in the area over a 14-day period in Clark County is considered “high.” In the update on Monday, 254.45 cases per 100,000 people were reported, continuing a months-long upward trajectory.
On Tuesday, Clark County Public Health reported 277 new COVID-19 cases — a daily record for the county — and two more deaths.
When cases are in the “high” range, state health officials have strongly recommended remote learning with the option for limited in-person learning in small groups of students with various specific needs.
When asked Tuesday if the district has any plans to alter its remote learning plan, McKercher said the district will continue to adhere to guidance from state and local health officials.
“Within the high COVID-19 range per Department of Health guidance, we will bring students on campus in small groups starting with our youngest students and those with specific support needs,” McKercher said. “We will increase the number of small groups incrementally and methodically while monitoring community COVID-19 activity and specific school (and) site information.”
Other demonstrations are scheduled for Dec. 9-10. A change.org online petition created last week had more than 200 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
One of those demonstrators will likely be Andrea Seeley, the mother of a high school freshman and fourth- grader. Seeley said she is worried about teen suicide rates and how remote learning can allow students to “tune out.”
“I think it’s important that reopening happens safely. COVID is real. It is here,” Seeley said. “It’s not that we’re a fringe, uneducated group.”