This past week, an open letter was released from Edina Parents for Progress addressed to the Edina School Board. The content of the letter demanded a timely return to a full five-day-per-week in-person learning model, much different than the current distance learning format. Parents for Progress claims to be a “Voice For The Kids” on the front page of their website, but we can speak for ourselves.
Educational adversity is a universal experience among K-12 students, which has been exacerbated by a constantly changing school structure. However, this can’t outweigh public health and the importance of community welfare; the five-day model suggested by the organization severely understates the dangers associated with fully reopening.
We can agree that the hybrid model imposed stress on all parties involved, specifically teachers. We saw several teachers uniquely anxious about the prospect of three separate learning pods—Hybrid A, Hybrid B, and EVA. Classes were often rushed, with instructors battling technological issues alongside different learning schedules. The Edina Public Schools administration should have been far more forthcoming with details on the pending hybrid plan, and that isn’t up for debate. We were dismayed at the policy that specifies no recordings of special sessions of school board meetings rather than a YouTube livestream and certainly hoped that the EPS administration would value transparency in decision-making, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Though there are many points on which we disagree with Edina Parents for Progress, we can all agree transparency is a necessity, especially given heightened uncertainties brought on by COVID-19.
If transparency is to be expected from the administration, it is certainly reasonable for us to ask the same from the community members in charge of Edina Parents for Progress. On the “About” section of the website, there seems to be a lack of information about those involved with the organization. Are the leaders of Edina Parents for Progress currently involved with the district? Or are they Edina residents whose children have graduated? There is a meaningful distinction between the two, and one that isn’t publicly answered. The same parents who try to micromanage the EPS faculty and demand leadership accountability must extend that same courtesy towards EPS students.
That being said, we would like to dissect the open letter and website from the Edina Parents for Progress, specifically from the perspective of current Edina High School students—all of whom are directly affected by the decisions made by the EPS administration and Edina School Board.
“Our number one issue, ahead of tech levies, teacher contract negotiations and the change in curriculum that is happening at an alarming rate, is to put our children back in school. All grades. Five days a week.”
The EPS School Board must continue their discussions that were in place since before the pandemic, not push them aside. These items contribute to the overall functioning of EPS, and distance learning would be disrupted without these aspects. The technology levies provide funds that support students in the district with challenges accessing proper technology—technology used extensively in both face-to-face instruction and distance learning. Even without the increased workload brought in by COVID, teacher contract negotiations occur every two years and are vitally important, considering the devotion of EPS faculty. The change in curriculum reflects an increased awareness of the historically flawed approach to educating students on matters including race, LGBTQ+ rights, systems of oppression, and flawed societal standards—the change most recently sparked by Black Lives Matter protests and the disproportionate impact of COVID on poor families and communities of color. Our number one issue as a city, state, and country should be to preserve public health and safety—not risk the lives of community members. While not ideal, distance learning is feasible while still implementing new systems that promote the overall growth of district policies. With the proposed five day learning model, it would be impossible to maintain proper COVID-safe protocols that have made hybrid learning safe thus far.
“Do what you have to do to get vaccines issued faster.”
Perhaps the most baffling assertion is that a high school would have any authority over the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Should the administration have any control over distribution, it would ostensibly benefit district students and teachers, yet the distribution is not controlled at the district level. The current vaccine rollout plan in Minnesota focuses on high-risk workers and those with underlying medical conditions, and a number of healthcare professionals have yet to receive the vaccine. Right now, states don’t have the infrastructure to carry out a vaccination schedule that allows staff members to receive early doses. Though a faster process for the Pfizer and Moderna distributions would be ideal, it is absolutely necessary to address those in the high-risk categories first—and generally, that doesn’t include the low-risk K-12 students. Even if students were able to receive the vaccine, this doesn’t guarantee that the virus could not still be spread.
“We have trusted you to create the standard for the State and to never forget that your job, your singular job, is to educate and build the next generation of leaders coming from our town.”
To suggest EPS staff have a “singular job” would be to neglect their other tireless efforts that don’t fit into any defined category. Faculty members have families and lives outside of school and should not be expected to put their lives on the line in order to do their job. Given the challenges of the current situation, and their dedication to students’ well being, it is certainly expected that staff members are seen as more than simple pawns of the district. The Nov. 10 board meeting explicitly cites a unique difficulty with protecting the EPS faculty and maintaining a school that is well-equipped to provide safe, in-person education.
“In your meetings, you have waxed on about how difficult teachers have had it this year. In a breathtakingly tone-deaf approach, you have spent no time acknowledging the stress your families, and your students, have shouldered.”
We all watched the live meeting that announced the decision of a full-time switch to virtual learning—it was everything but “tone-deaf,” and Edina School Board members certainly spent time “acknowledging the stress of [the] families.” After the plan was approved, several members of the board spoke directly to the viewers of the livestream; some were choked up as they spoke to their own children through a Zoom conference, others were cognizant of the difficulties that virtual learning would pose. The Edina Education Fund launched a campaign over the summer specifically dedicated to improving the mental well-being of students. This campaign outlines the importance of increased counseling personnel within the school, the funding of summer support staff, and additional training. The follow-through on this may be up for debate, but the majority of the board has made it clear that they understand the struggles faced by EPS students. Though there’s undoubtedly a need to find better options for overwhelmed families, many of whom had to find childcare during online learning, an unsafe return to in-person schooling is not the solution.
In addition to the open letter, Edina Parents for Progress lists a series of values on their main website. These values are not being upheld within social circles, rendering any attempt at a full reopening futile.
“We believe it is not only a gift, but a fundamental right, for students to learn in an environment that maximizes potential and creates valuable, responsible community members.”
Do the same “responsible community members” include the EHS students who attended New Year’s Eve parties over break? Does this “responsibility” recognize the implications of large-scale gatherings that Edina students are holding outside of CDC guidelines? No safe return to school can occur when students are not being purposefully conscious of the precautions that need to be taken. If EPS is to reopen on a full in-person model, we must address the existing inequities within the education system—specifically as it relates to the number of Edina residents breaking COVID protocols. Truly responsible community members recognize the risk of COVID transmission to at-risk populations, our grandparents, our low-income neighbors, and our community members of color.
“We are here to support teachers in their safe return to the classroom.”
The safe return to the classroom is not possible in the proposed five day face-to-face model. The hybrid system utilized earlier in the academic year used measures such as reduced class sizes to ensure social distancing and increased COVID precautions. Full capacity classrooms do not provide the social distancing required to manage the transmission of the virus.
None of us are against the implementation of a hybrid model. Students with an unsafe or unstable learning environment must be able to return, but that won’t happen under the current demands brought by the Parents for Progress organization. Though there seems to be some disdain for the teachers union within the group’s open letter—which they attempted to address in an additional Change.org update—the importance of Minnesota educators cannot be understated, and that includes the teachers union. Education Minnesota announced their concern as schools begin to reopen, citing a post-holiday COVID spike in addition to the new strand of the virus hailing from the UK, which recently forced their country into another lockdown.
When EPS opens its doors, it must be done with care and in accordance with CDC guidelines. The five day schedule proposed by the Edina Parents for Progress is marked in the “higher risk” to “highest risk” categories created by the CDC. In the midst of a still healing nation, a rushed and unsafe transition into a full sized learning model is irresponsible and ignores the concerns brought forth by students and teachers alike. Dissenting messages brought by fellow community members are being censored—on the Change.org petition created by Edina Parents for Progress, comments expressing concerns on the organization’s demands have already been deleted.
Ultimately, preserving the lives of frontline workers, neighbors, and family members, many of whom are in low-income households, takes precedence over a rushed school reopening. Distance learning isn’t easy, and all students and faculty can attest to that. In the middle of a global pandemic, however, community safety is paramount. Medical professionals see the implications of a reckless response to COVID and set guidelines according to hard data—and right now, they’re telling us to stay home.
We were not prompted nor encouraged to write this by any member of Zephyrus, the EHS administration, or the Edina faculty. All writers individually elected to participate in the writing process and approached the Zephyrus Editorial Board of their own volition, thus only reflecting the opinions of the writers.