Fairfield parents want in-person classes

Group asks for reconsideration of decision for hybrid learning

FAIRFIELD – A group of parents is petitioning the Fairfield school board to reconsider its decision to do a hybrid educational model when classes start Aug. 24.

The school board voted 4-3 at a special meeting Aug. 6 to do a hybrid model where half the instruction will be in-person and the other half will be online. On Tuesday, a group of parents met at O.B. Nelson Park in Fairfield to discuss the vote and whether it can be appealed to the state Board of Education. Drew Johnson, who led the meeting, said he had collected 433 signatures as of Thursday morning from parents and stakeholders in the community such as employers, asking the board to offer a fully in-person option.

Johnson said he wants to be clear that he is not against offering an online option for parents who want it. He just wants parents to also have a fully in-person option, which they don’t have. Under the hybrid model, the student body will be divided into two groups, with the first group attending in-person class Monday, Tuesday and every other Wednesday, and the second group attending it Thursday, Friday, and every other Wednesday.

Fairfield School Superintendent Laurie Noll said last week that the district conducted a survey of its staff on the kind of educational model they wanted, and 55 percent said they wanted in-person learning. Johnson said he’s not necessarily claiming that a majority of parents want fully in-person learning. What he is saying is that there is enough interest in a five-day school week that the school district, as a taxpayer-funded organization, has an obligation to offer it.

Terri Kness, who has a child going into third grade and one going into sixth, said the board’s decision to do a hybrid model caught her and many other parents off guard. On July 30, the superintendent hosted a virtual town hall in which she said the district was going to offer fully in-person instruction as an option, but one week later the board voted not to do that and instead offer only the hybrid model or the fully online option.

“Had we known the board was intending to do this, we would have spoken up,” Kness said.

Kness said she feels the board has been swayed by listening to retired teachers or others in the district who want the hybrid model but who don’t have children in school, and thus don’t have the same “skin in the game” as parents.

Johnson has a daughter who will begin second grade this fall. He thinks she will be fine with the hybrid model, but that’s because his family has the resources to allow his wife to stay home with her on the days she doesn’t go to school. He said many other families are not so fortunate, and he is looking out for them.

“Look at the tens of thousands of meals our district has served over the last few months,” he said. “If a kid can’t get a hot meal in his own home, who in good faith can really think they will have the resources to get an education at home? For many kids, school is an escape from abuse and other traumas that we like to think don’t happen in our small community.”

Kness said she doesn’t think sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time will be good for her children, and that they learn much better in-person. She also wondered how the teachers will manage to give instruction in-person and over Zoom.

“I think that will be difficult,” she said.