To the Editor: 

Last Tuesday night we had the opportunity to participate in the MERSD School Committee meeting. We left more frustrated than we thought possible.

Our aim was simple. Reconsider the planned time frame to get our middle/high school students back to some type of part time learning in school.  Before the middle of January, before there is no chance of any in-person learning.  Our kids have been home looking at screens since March.

What we received back was “we hear you”, “we’ve done a lot of hard work on this already”, “we feel your frustration” and other platitudes.

Our request was dismissed. We were swatted away like flies.  Our three minutes each for comments were just an agenda item required to check a box.  

We felt powerless to a Committee seemingly focused on 100 ways to say no, and virtually no reason to find a way. Even when the Superintendent raised our request of an earlier in-person start, to get a few weeks in before things get worse, it seemed like that idea was dismissed without debate.  We understand a tremendous amount of volunteer hours have been spent on a reentry plan. But how did our district reach an all remote program when bigger cities and nearby towns reached the opposite conclusion? 

Later on in the meeting, when the agenda moved to a vote for funding of the new playground, it was approved, with cheers, clapping and smiles all around. What kind of impression does that leave a group of parents who went on record pleading for their children’s education, the kind of education that nearly every town around us has somehow made possible?

Is it because our Committee is that much smarter than every other school district, or even the CDC, which has consistently said, under safe and responsible conditions, children should get some kind of in-school learning? Is it because counsel told the Committee that they are legally exposed if something happens?  Or is it simply because it's easier to keep studying the issue, to continue to consult with the experts, keep our kids home, and hope everything works out.

We all explained the real implications of our kids staring at a screen all day. They are not some made up, sad stories to garner sympathy.  Depression, anxiety, loneliness and lower performance are real outcomes of kids unable to interact in-person with other peers and teachers, even for a day or two a week.

In August when cases were low, we had a window to try a hybrid model. Now, it appears the year could be lost. That is a profoundly sad notion for everyone, kids, parents, teachers.

The Committee could have shown just a little more understanding and empathy, conveyed to us that they would go back and try again to find a way back. Talk again to other towns, learn how they bring kids back.  Instead we heard lots of fancy phrases like a reevaluation of key metrics and further risk assessments, and ultimately, not much hope for our kids.  

Michael & Heather Richard

Essex