At Wednesday’s school board meeting, a group of Pelham parents presented a petition calling on the trustees and Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ to give students the opportunity to attend school full-time and in-person this spring and during the 2021-22 academic year.
The online petition, organized by 90 parents, had 713 signatures as of midday Thursday.
“We are a group of Pelham parents who have come together in order to advocate and advance any and all efforts to get our children safely back to school full-time and in-person,” said the petition. “Pelham schools must make a resolute commitment of providing a full-time, in-person option for students this spring and to bringing all students back by September.”
The petition said the “effects of prolonged remote school have had a devastating impact on (students) ability to learn, and on their mental health,” adding, “We recognize that the hybrid-learning model is a very difficult one for our dedicated teachers to successfully educate within.”
Pamela Argiriadi, a parent of Pelham students and physician at Mount Sinai Hospital, read the petition on behalf of the 604 who signed it (at the time of the meeting).
The group has reached out to State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi to get guidance and clarification on reopening schools from the state level, as well as for vaccinating and testing teachers and staff. The petition called for the formation of a task force to “brainstorm with you ways in which full-time, in-person school can be implemented in a safe, effective way. We would like to revisit a.m./p.m. learning options and better understand the current daily hybrid attendance rate to see if there is room for more children to come back for full-time, in-person instruction.”
Champ said the board is “actively discussing with our administrative team on fully reopening the schools,” noting that the six-foot distancing rule has been emphasized by the New York State Department of Health and Department of Education to slow the spread of the virus. Vaccines are still rolling out, with some district employees receiving their second dose soon, she said.
There have been suggestions made to use the middle or high school as a vaccination spot for staff with no progress—but Champ said the district is advocating for this possibility. The district is also looking to implement surveillance testing, beginning in the coming weeks.
“If things go well, that allows us to increase density in schools, but will require updated health protocols,” she said. “We are committed to a full return to school, by the fall, at the latest.”
A fully in-person return to teaching will require a “phased-in” approach, paired with testing, by bringing in students fully grade by grade, allowing modifications if necessary, Champ said. “Safe is when vaccines are fully rolled out to all students and staff.” She also said that families who prefer a full virtual learning option, if full in-person learning is implemented, will be able to continue virtually.
“Teachers are getting vaccinated, but we know our children will not be vaccinated,” said Town Councilwoman Kristen Burke, who supported the petition. “We don’t know much about the variants. We cannot continue like this. We hear all the stories: the decline in education, the social isolation, the mental health.”
“We all hope to be back full time in the fall,” Burke said. “We need to start talking about contingency plans.”
Several board members reiterated throughout the meeting that they are working closely with the state department of health and the New York State guidance on when is best to reopen.
The district is in discussions with the Pelham Recreation Department to set up programs on the Wednesday half days, after school and possibly over the February break for elementary students, Champ said.