Upper Valley parents petition for return to in-person classes

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 4:26 PM EDT
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LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) - In tents or in buildings, some schools are committed to making in-person learning work. But others are choosing remote learning or a hybrid of the two. An online petition in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which now has close to 350 signatures calls for the school district to revisit it’s reopening plan for students.

When students return to school in Lebanon this fall, it will be a hybrid model of two days in the classroom and three days remote. But that has some parents like Jill Zambon pushing back.

"Honestly, she sat in front of the TV from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every single day," said Zambon, a single mom with a rising 2nd grader in the Lebanon School District.

When the pandemic pulled the plug on in-person learning last March, Zambon -- who also has a full-time job -- says both she and her daughter struggled. "It just wasn't good. It wasn't good for our relationship. It wasn't good for her mental state. I think we both struggled," she said.

And she isn’t the only one concerned about the district’s return to school plan. “If we can’t start back to in-person schooling now with our children, when would be a good time to do it?” said Paul Barr, who started an online petition that encourages the district to reconsider. “We acknowledge and can really see that our teachers, our school board, our superintendent are trying to do their best to handle all this really complex information.”

But the researcher at the Dartmouth Institute says the region's relatively low COVID-19 cases is a good case for five-days a week of in-person learning.

Because that's not happening, at least for now, Barr says many parents are turning to pop up schools, which he says could lead to more COVID exposures."And that's a big problem for any pandemic -- is that they start interacting with more and more people so that their social bubble gets bigger and bigger," Barr said.

Zambon is considering sending her daughter to a nearby Montessori school -- which comes with a cost. "I've got a mortgage and property taxes to send her to this great school and now I will be paying to send her to a private school because I want her to be continue to be challenged," Zambon said.

She said all she wants is a bit of normalcy for her young learner. "Kids are feeling depressed and isolated and lonely and I could see that in her," Zambon said.

Those who signed the petition say, if anything, they hope it simply furthers the discussion to educate more people in the district and the larger community about the fears and concerns as residents continue to navigate through the pandemic.

The Lebanon school board chair and the superintendent were asked for comment.

The school board responded, saying:

“The School Board is grateful for all the advice we have received.  Everyone in our community shares the goal of a return to normal, in-person education. We will continuously monitor the data provided by DHHS closely as well as our effectiveness and efficiency in creating a healthy building.

Before and during the August 5th meeting, Board members listened to presentations form Dr. Joanne Roberts related to both a 5-Day In-Person and Hybrid model and considered advice from medical professionals and public health experts. We are aware of the broad range of preferences expressed by parents throughout our community.  Board members have received copies of the petition and supporting documents.  At this time, no Board members have requested an emergency meeting.

As Chair of the Lebanon School Board, I believe it is essential as a District that our administrative team, teachers, and staff be given the time they need to prepare for the start of school on September 8th using the hybrid model. We look forward to a successful return to school this fall.”

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