By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City school officials reassured parents that they are doing all they can to navigate through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, but acknowledged it has been a struggle to balance virtual learning and in-person instruction.
“We know that the school year has been difficult, to say the least,” School Board President Joseph Clark said at the start of Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.
The Ocean City district closed on March 16 at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a day before Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to shut down schools statewide.
The following day, Ocean City schools offered the hybrid learning model, which combines virtual and in-person instruction for students.
During the public portion of the meeting, a host of parents spoke about their problems and concerns with the hybrid learning model. They also asked why there isn’t concurrent instruction for both virtual and in-person students. Some parents made emotional pleas to the board to provide better education for the students.
“We truly understand the frustrations. In the past couple of months, we have heard concerns over the spectrum,” Clark said. “There is no magic solution.”
Clark explained that some families said they wanted the hybrid instruction, while others wanted all in-person instruction and still others didn’t know what they wanted.
There was also discussion about the inability to livestream for virtual and in-person instruction concurrently, which is due to connectivity issues from the service provider.
Just this week, parents were asked to send in a survey giving their feedback about this year and how their children felt about hybrid instruction.
“Your feedback is needed,” Clark said, adding that everyone in the district is in unchartered territory amid the pandemic. “Our administration is reviewing the survey results and will share them when they are available.”
He added, “Never have our decisions carried more weight affecting every single student in every family.”
Clark said the district remains flexible.
Both Clark and Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor have said from the beginning of the pandemic that the course of teaching may need to change.
Schools may go all virtual if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Recently, the district began posting weekly COVID-19 figures to provide as much information as possible to families in the school system, officials said.
Curt Nath, director of academic services, explained some of the problems with connectivity for the district, specifically, the inability at this time to provide concurrent teaching. While that would allow livestreaming, it is not possible at this time.
Amy Godfrey, an Ocean City parent, said she stopped working to stay at home with her children ages 10 and 12 to help with their education.
She said that concurrent teaching would help improve the education of all of the students who are learning from home.
“It is important for the teachers to know the quality of the education the children are receiving,” Godfrey said.
Alisabeth Fleming, another parent, asked if the school officials, as leaders, could consider how difficult it has been for everyone involved.
“Why are the parents and teachers still feeling spread too thin? You are our leaders. Please consider reflecting on the last few months,” Fleming said. “It has been really hard on them. Let us create more effective feedback. We can improve.”
She continued, “Let’s create an environment of open communication with more effective feedback. We need our leaders to help us improve, excel and level up. You are our leaders.”
Jen Bowman, also an Ocean City parent, said that the community needs to come together.
“If any community can come together to properly educate our students and make happiness happen for them it’s this community,” Bowman said. “We have the volunteers, the outdoor resources, and a mayor who is alumni and very supportive of our schools. We need strong leadership.”
She said Dr. Taylor has the years of experience leading the district, but that there needs to be a better game plan.
Bowman added, “Dr. Taylor, you have the best team possible … use all of us to our fullest potential.”
While some people voiced concern over how hybrid and virtual learning was being offered, Dr. Jason Chew spoke of the importance of bringing the children back to school full time. He and his wife, Suzanne, have two children, Kai, who is in the Intermediate School, and Cove, who is a Primary School student.
“We want to make sure that with all of this stuff, we are not hurting more than we are helping and right now, not having the kids in the school five days a week, it is hurting,” Dr. Chew said.
He added that an idea brought up by another resident, Sean Scarborough, to provide more space so more students could go to school could be an idea to discuss.
“Maybe we could have tents outside,” Dr. Chew said. “We have to push toward live instruction.”