News you may have missed: parents gather to rally for an end to remote learning

On+March+3rd.+parents+rallied+in+downtown+Bothell+to+call+for+the+reopening+of+Northshore+District+schools.+Photo+Courtesy+of+Jenny+Counsel.+

Jenny Counsel

On March 3rd. parents rallied in downtown Bothell to call for the reopening of Northshore District schools. Photo Courtesy of Jenny Counsel.

Margaret He, Co-Editor-in-Chief

“Free our children” was one of many signs passing drivers may have seen on the sidewalks of downtown Bothell on March 3. The Wednesday rally was organized by Northshore School District parents amidst calls for the reopening of schools. The rally follows a recent outpouring of complaints by parents over the toll of virtual education. Within the popular NSD Community Discussion Group on Facebook, administrators of the group have had to address the overwhelming attention the issue has received. 

“Over the past few weeks, there has been an increase in tensions within the community, and it is showing very clearly here in this group,” group administrator Wendy Reynolds said in a recent post. “Our teachers and staff in NSD are some of the greatest educators around. The cream of the crop. We are lucky to have them. They are working very hard and they do not deserve to be dumped on and bashed. This decision is out of their hands.”

The parent rally also follows the Feb. 26 release of Northshore’s reopening update, which featured plans to transition young learners (K-3) and those with IEPs, or in special education programs, to a hybrid learning system. For parents of students not included in this update, this decision proved to be underwhelming. 

Superintendent Michelle Reid said the district has been working tirelessly to provide all students a safe reopening that aligns with the guidelines set by the State Department of Education. Decisions have been informed using the voices of many stakeholders, including parents, students, staff and partners from the Department of Health and Department of Education. In addition to the early learner reopening procedure set to begin in a few weeks, the district plans to release an update for middle and high schoolers in the coming weeks. 

“We share the concern [of district parents] about making sure that students are able to return to in person teaching and learning,” Reid said. “We want to make sure that we provide a safe and healthy way to do that. So we’re continuing our planning. As you know, we’ve announced putting a plan for our pre-K through fifth grade, and we’ll be announcing our reopening plans for middle and high school students here in the next week or so.”

In the meantime, as remote learning continues for many students, Reid said that the district is also committed to promoting practices that will support the best quality of learning remotely. Mental health counselors have been added to all middle schools and full or part-time counselors to all elementary schools, in addition to other both student and district-based initiatives directed towards mental health. 

“We provide continuous professional development to our teachers and support professionals, and each school has a team of staff that works on making sure students are engaged and attending,” Reid said. “We’ve really committed ourselves to making sure that in all possible ways, we provide access and support professional practice for best teaching strategies online.”

Northshore parent Jenny Counsell said she has been disappointed in the district’s delay in reopening for all ages, given that she’s seen many other schools reopening with great success. She said she views the mental health of her children as a far greater concern compared to the risk of them catching COVID-19 at school. Her primary concerns are over the impacts of social isolation and the quality of learning asynchronously. 

“My girls were ok with remote learning until we hit the fall, and they were still remote,” Counsell said. “As the year has gone on, they have lost their excitement and motivation around school. I have seen them go from outgoing and happy kids to sedentary and depressed. They miss their friends, they miss the teachers, they miss PE, they miss recess, they miss library and music and they miss it being in-person!”

Counsell, who attended the rally on March 3, said that the event allowed her and other parents to raise awareness in the community for their cause and that it attracted a great deal of support. 

“There were probably 100+ like-minded people who attended the rally along with a lot of children. We had great support with many cars honking, waving, and giving thumbs-ups,” she said.

For Counsell and many other Northshore parents, the rally is just the beginning of a major effort to push the district to return to in-person learning. If the effort fails, she said that many families are considering more drastic measures. 

“I think the rally is just the start. Email blasts have been sent to the school district, the governor and state legislators begging for mandated in-person learning to resume,” she said. “If they don’t make a change soon, they will lose a lot of enrollment come the fall. I know many families are considering leaving the district and we are one of them.”

On March 12, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he would soon issue an emergency proclamation ordering schools to offer part-time, in-person instruction for all students, with mandatory reopenings for elementary learners by April 5 and middle and high schoolers by April 19. The decision reflects the aforementioned concerns over the mental health of students. 

“I have reviewed the medical evidence regarding the condition of our students, both from a COVID transmission standpoint and from a mental health standpoint,” Inslee said. “In the recent days there is now, unfortunately, undeniably, a mental healthcare crisis in our state regarding our youth.”