The letter was sent by the Education Minnesota Wrenshall unit and was read aloud at the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday, March 10, by Wrenshall teacher Sheri Fossen.
“We understand that these are not normal times, and that sacrifices must be made in times of crisis,” the letter read. “What we do not understand, and find unacceptable, is that these sacrifices are being heaped onto the backs of our remote students and causing their educational experiences to suffer.”
Staff had previously brought their concerns to the superintendent and three members of the school board, asking them to implement a full distance learning day on Wednesdays for all students, in replacement of the half day they currently have on Mondays.
In the end, Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro said the school board felt strongly that they and the community want to have students in the building five days a week.
When the decision was made to not change the schedule, some staff said they felt they needed to voice their objections through the letter.
Teachers also spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, sharing their experiences with teaching distance learners.
“It is very difficult,” Wrenshall teacher Pamela Niesen said.
Niesen is in her first week of attempting to teach classroom and distance learners concurrently in an effort to engage those at home. She shared there’s been many challenges with technology and it’s been difficult for everyone to be allowed equal participation.
In addition to other challenges, Niesen said she doesn’t have enough books for all of the students, and has begun uploading pages for online viewing.
“It really just doesn’t work,” social studies teacher Denise North said in regard to teaching concurrently.
She explained that there isn’t adequate technology available to all students, a sentiment that was echoed by English teacher Ted Conover.
Conover has spent time researching the technology needed to make concurrent instruction possible, and said what the school has right now does not meet the requirements.
He said better quality webcams and microphones are necessary to allow distance learners to see and hear the lessons taught in the classroom.
While the school has recently purchased microphones for teachers, staff agreed that there are other obstacles remaining.
“We’re trying every strategy that we possibly can,” Wrenshall teacher Nichole Rowland said. “It’s still not enough.”
Rowland expressed that the main concern is for distance learners in grades 7-12.
There are currently 31 students in the high school and middle school opting for full time distance learning, with 22 in the elementary school.
According to Belcastro, the district has been able to designate specific teachers for elementary distance learners, but not for the middle or high school.
In turn, this has caused teachers to be stretched thin with their time and many distance learners do not have as much access to instructors as the learners in the classrooms.
“It’s been a lot on everybody in so many ways,” Belcastro said.
According to Belcastro, district officials worked with teachers to try and accommodate their needs around distance learning.
Math teacher Nick Moran said he uses study hall and prep time to help distance learners, while North said she tries to meet with her distance learners every day at 3 p.m. after her regular classes are finished.
Rowland ended the conversation by reiterating the unfairness of the situation for students remaining at home out of concerns for safety in the pandemic.
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