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Parents have their say: Clark County hears concerns about all-virtual learning

The governor, Department of Education, and state and local school boards have said they want to delay in-person classes until late September, but this week, Clark County parents had their say.

Seven parents addressed the Clark County Board of Education Monday night, and most asked that students be allowed to go back to school sooner than nine weeks.

The board had earlier this summer planned for students to return to school on Sept. 8, but after coronavirus infections spiked, the board voted 3-2 Aug. 3 to follow Superintendent Paul Christy’s recommendation that the first nine weeks be virtual learning only, but re-examine that decision Sept. 21 based on infection rates.

“My fear is that we operate in fear,” said Kelley Nisbet, who has a daughter who will be a high school senior this year and a son who is a junior in college.

Nisbet knows the seriousness of the coronavirus. Her ex-husband, James Nisbet, was the first person in Clark County to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and to get sick from it. She has been quarantined twice, she said. But she is not for all-digital learning until the end of next month.

“Nine weeks is a long time,” she said.

“I’m not saying fly be the seat of your pants and be unsafe, but I do think that at some point in time, you have to face your fear, and you have to say, ‘What’s good for the kids mentally? What’s good for the parents mentally?’” she said.

Working parents have been able to go back to work by modifying how they work, and children can do the same, she suggested.

“This is probably not going away,” Nisbet said. “Realistically, you can’t do this for months or years at a time.”

Her former husband did not attend the school board meeting, but said in a phone interview over the weekend that he agreed students can return to school safely with the right preparation, and that they need “full engagement” in the learning process.

“I do think we need to move forward with school, but we have to take precautions,” he said.

Jon Wilson, a father who works in medical records and said he has “been dealing with COVID since March,” was “thrilled” by the school board’s decision.

“I’m a type 1 diabetic. My wife is a teacher. It would be nice to spend some time with her rather than being concerned about her bringing something home,” he said.

Wilson addressed the issue of reopening the schools but taking precautions.

“I can’t imagine controlling a classroom to begin with, much less dealing with masks for that length of time,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling to me.”

Lori Settles, who has a background in psychology and counseling, was concerned about the effects of social isolation on students’ mental health.

“I think we’re kind of playing Russian roulette a little bit between the physical versus the mental health of our kids,” she said.

She said an American Psychological Association study in July found that 40 percent of children interviewed suffered from anxiety and depression.

“I do feel like the virus is here to stay,” Settles said. “Six months from now, are we going to be in a different place? Or a year? It’s possible that we’re not. As a community, how are we going to learn to live with this?”

Mike Cecil said he wanted to “strongly encourage” the board to “send the kids back to school.”

“I believe in choice. If you have a child at risk or a family member at risk, there should be a virtual option available. But I have seen in my own household the impact mentally that this quarantine … has had on the junior high and high school-age kids specifically. They need cultural interaction,” he said.

Cecil said he worried about the effects social isolation would have on depression and stress-related disorders and suicide rates among teenagers.

He also was concerned about having too much “screen time” from staring at computers and their phones all day. Screen time releases dopamine in the brain, which can negatively affect students, he said.

“What effect is doubling or tripling children’s screen time going to have n the long term?” he asked.

Cecil also made a plea for a return to school sports, saying athletic competition is critical not only to physical health but also to social interaction and developing self-esteem.

Travis Thompson wasn’t at the meeting, but had William Taulbee, a school board member, read a letter in which he addressed the issue of returning to school from his various perspectives, as a father, city police officer and county magistrate.

“I’m trusting the board listen to the medical professionals and experts and take the necessary steps to protect Clark County students” to the best of their ability, Thompson said.

“At a minimum, I think the first few weeks of school should remain virtual, and that seems to be the consensus of health professionals at the state and local level,” he said.

However, as a Winchester Police officer, he said, he sees the effects of domestic issues involving some children at home and thinks that “the sooner some of these children can get back in school, the better” it will be for them.

And as a magistrate, he denounced the politicalization of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Please don’t make this about Republicans or Democrats,” he said, but make decisions based on facts.

“I want my child back in school as much as anyone,” he said, as soon as it’s safe to return.

Two parents, Bo and Elizabeth Harris, who own the Clark County Child Development Center day care, also addressed the board about their plans for a community center they said could help students during the times they have to be distance-learning. One of their ideas is to allow older students to use the space in front of their business on North Main Street for students to work and use their WiFi connection so they don’t have to always be at home.

After hearing the parents, Christy said he could agree with every one of them and the points they made.

“It’s a difficult decision,” he said, and he, too, wants students to return to school as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. He said the administration and board will be reconsidering their decision every 30 days based on results of health data.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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