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Medford parents say remote students are getting ‘subpar’ education

Superintendent attempts to address concerns at Jan. 25 board meeting

Medford parent Christine Tomkus speaks to the Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 16 (Alyssa Biederman/The Sun).

For months, Medford parents have lobbied the school board to bring back their students for five day, in person instruction. Despite speaking up at many board of education meetings, they feel nothing has changed.

“We need to figure this out,” said parent Joseph Rowan. “We keep getting the same thing: ‘We’re working on it.’ I still haven’t seen it.

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“Right now, we’re completely accepting a subpar education.” 

In November, Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi presented a plan to bring back kindergarten students for full in person classes, effective Feb. 16. During a board meeting on Jan. 25, parents claimed that wasn’t enough.

Karen Kussy, who has a 5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son attending school in the district, said her children have been let down by remote learning. Her daughter, who she said usually loves school, has been putting her head down in class. Her son lets out his frustration by snapping his colored pencils in half.

“To expect an 8-year-old to be on a remote meeting for four hours a day is insane,” she said. “Our kids are not that resilient.”

Another parent, Ria Jernberg, recently moved to Medford for its respected schools. She asked the board to consider other options for in person schooling, such as classes in gyms and libraries.

“Listen to us because we are here as partners,” she said. “We will do whatever we can, but we’re not going to sacrifice our children’s mental health, their education and our work-life balance.”

Del Rossi told the audience of parents to call him with questions, a statement that provoked audible laughter from the audience. 

Parent Andrea Kornick, who runs the Facebook group Reopen Medford Schools,  told The Sun in November that even when speaking one-on-one to Del Rossi, she hasn’t gotten answers.

“I want to tell you as a superintendent, I’m not satisfied. It’s not an ideal educational program that we have, at this point,” Del Rossi acknowledged, often  yelling and banging his fist on the table while addressing the crowd.

He said he will meet with the district’s reopening committee and use the kindergarten program as a pilot to see what the district needs to bring other grades back to school full time. 

“You don’t have the ability, but we have the opportunity to see what comes from 2,500 parents, or 545 staff members, in terms of what they’re dealing with, with their families, who’s in the hospital, how many people pass (away) and so forth,” Del Rossi said.

Since the district resumed classes in September, 81 staff members and 168 students have tested positive for COVID, according to the district’s online dashboard. Nearly 2,000 staff and students have had to quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive.

During the week of Jan. 18, the most recent data available, 39 people associated with the district tested positive. 

On Jan. 25, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Protection advised  that schools can be reopened safely if staff and students wear masks and social distance, but only if the communities those schools serve have similar protocol, such as limiting indoor dining and bars. 

In New Jersey, indoor dining is allowed, with limits, and other businesses like gyms and movie theaters can reopen indoors.

“So I hope you hear the frustration in my voice here,” Del Rossi noted. “I want exactly what you want. But, paramount is the safety of students and staff in our school district. We’re not perfect, we’re far from being the best that we can be at this point. 

“But I give you my word we’re working towards that.”

 

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