About 10 people protested outside the Oak Harbor Public School Board’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic began, asking for school leaders to let students return to full-time, in-person instruction, although state requirements prevent them from doing so.
Protesters held signs that read “Open schools now,” “Stop killing our children” and one person dressed up in a poop emoji inflatable costume as the small group waved to drivers outside the school district administration building Monday evening.
Multiple parents spoke during the public comment period of the school board meeting, asking for all-day, in-person learning in some fashion.
“I heard another parent say that distance learning is (like) attempting to put Ikea furniture together blindfolded — it’s impossible,” said Alisha Gollihar.
“Open up the schools full time, please, not just for now but for the future of our children.”
JoDee Snyder implored school leadership to figure out a plan with the teachers union to add days to the primary students’ calendar and to get older students in school full time for at least two days a week.
“We need a plan, and it needs to be implemented and our kids need an education,” Snyder said.
Despite teachers and school staff now being prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, the schools still cannot open full time because of the state public health requirement to have 6 feet of social distance.
“While some schools will be able to fully reopen for in-person learning, in most districts, they will need to utilize a hybrid model because they don’t have the physical space necessary to bring all students and staff back and meet the current 6-foot physical distancing requirement,” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction guidance says.
Superintendent Lance Gibbon said that 275 school district staff had received one dose of the vaccine during a recent vaccination clinic at the high school, along with other members of the community who were eligible for a shot.
He also said staff was working on a plan to bring students back for more in-person instruction after spring break.
Conor Laffey, communications officer for the school district, said the state social distancing requirement prevents schools from opening to full-time, in-person classes.
“It is physically impossible to maintain six feet between students at desks in all classrooms,” Laffey said in an email.
“However, it is possible to have full-day learning at the elementary level (K-4) and still maintain the 6-foot mandate. We are exploring these options and should be presenting an expanded reopening plan to our School Board next week.”
The social distancing requirement remains a hurdle for bringing older students in grades 5-12 back, he added.
One of the student school board members, senior Shaquan Gallagher, said he would prefer to improve distance learning and hybrid instruction before rushing into a new plan.
“I think I would much rather us go slow with a plan that works and instead focus improving the quality of the hybrid and distance education style instead of rushing into a plan that doesn’t work,” Gallagher said.
Gibbon addressed the parents’ concerns toward the end of the meeting.
“When you hear us say that we’re doing more than other districts don’t mistake us for saying that’s enough,” Gibbon said.
“We’re not saying that it’s enough. We’re saying that we’re working hard to push the envelope to do what we can to get our students back and as much as possible, and that’s what we’re working on right now.”