About a dozen parents gathered in front of P.S. 71 Forest Elementary School in protest of what they say is lackluster in-person instruction on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
For the second day in a row, several parents held signs outside of the school — located at 62-85 Forest Ave. in Ridgewood — and called Principal Indiana Soto to get teachers inside of the classroom while their kids are in school. Parents said that while their kids are there three days out of the week for blended learning, teachers are not.
Halina Kosiorowska, a mother of a third-grade student at P.S. 71, said teachers are “basically teaching from home” while their kids are in the building since October.
“It’s called [an] in-person program, but when the children go to school, they sit in front of laptops and there is no in-person instruction,” said Kosiorowska, adding that there is one school staff member in the classroom monitoring them. “They spend, basically, three to four hours in front of the iPad in a school building. It’s a program that’s remote in a school building. Some parents don’t even realize that.”
Public school students and their families got to choose between fully remote learning or blended learning as students returned to classrooms for the 2020-21 academic school year. Blended learning is a combination of in-person instruction at school for some days of the week, and remote instruction at home on the remaining days.
There are roughly 335,000 students currently enrolled in blended learning, as nearly 35,000 students decided on the model during the Department of Education’s (DOE) opt-in period in November.
Kosiorowska said they’re only with teachers or a school staff member when they are at lunch or gym (which she added she applauds the school for offering to their kids).
Another parent of a third-grade student, who asked to remain anonymous, said teachers are mainly communicating with students through Zoom.
“We don’t understand,” the parent said. “Yesterday, after our protest, was the first day my daughter was writing since March. Can you imagine? Basically, they don’t use pencils.”
The parent also said they spoke on Monday with Principal Soto, who told them they don’t have enough teachers to be in the classroom.
“But other schools — on Metropolitan Avenue, in Maspeth and Middle Village — the kids don’t use computers in school,” the parent said. “If other schools can do it, this school can do it.”
Kosiorowska asked why there’s a shortage of teachers for in-person instruction, being that half of their student body is in blended learning and the other half is in remote learning. P.S. 71 currently has 634 students.
“How come we don’t have teachers? If we had enough teachers to teach 600 students, why don’t we have enough to teach 300?” said Kosiorowska.
One parent said P.S. 71 has “the best” teachers, but they want to see their kids have less time in front of a computer, as they worry it’s not healthy.
“Where is the writing? Where is the reading books?” another parent at the protest said. “We understand it’s a pandemic but … they go to school to wear headphones and look at the computer from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
The DOE maintains schools are offering students rich courses using both in-person and remote methods, and may continue to make adjustments over the winter as their staffing levels increase. They emphasize that being in the school building during a remote class, in the presence of other students and amongst school staff is beneficial during these unprecedented times.
“Our number one priority for students returning to school buildings is to give them a safe space to learn among their peers, and that is what the students at P.S. 71 have,” said DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson. “These blended learning students receive in-person instruction and rigorous, interactive live instruction throughout the day. Principal Soto has been meeting with this small group of parents, and is working closely with them to address their concerns.”
In October, parents at P.S. 128 in Middle Village also protested over a lack of instruction for their kids in the blended learning model. Some parents there said that after voicing their concerns, they saw an improvement in their instruction.
The city reopened 850 public schools on Monday, Dec. 7, after closing them for two weeks prior due to the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate reaching 3 percent. Approximately 190,000 students in 3-K, Pre-K, and elementary school who are currently enrolled in blended learning, returned to buildings for in-person classes.
Parents at P.S. 71 said they would return on Wednesday, Dec. 9, to make sure their message comes across.
“We’re hopeful Ms. Soto will do something,” said Kosiorowska.