Camas parents demand in-classroom school

Hundreds of parents have formed a Facebook page to discuss their demand that the Camas School District return to in-school teaching

A group of Camas parents have joined together, demanding the Camas School District (CSD) open up for in-classroom instruction immediately. The parents believe significant harm is being done to children by depriving them of face-to-face, in-school teaching.

The parents have formed a group named Open Camas Schools, including a Facebook page that has 716 members. 

“This FB Group was started to gather and show community support for getting the kids back in the classroom ‘right now,’” the page states. 

In-classroom instruction is not scheduled to begin at Camas High School for two more months. Photo by Mike Schultz
In-classroom instruction is not scheduled to begin at Camas High School for two more months. Photo by Mike Schultz

The parents believe many members of the Camas community want students back to school right away, but feel that their voice is not being heard. The goal of the group is to collect responses and feedback, and deliver that information to Superintendent Jeff Snell and the Camas School District Board of Directors, hoping their actions would apply pressure for a change.

Members of the Camas School Board sent out a survey attempting to find out how many families will choose the in-person (hybrid learning model) versus remote options. The goal of the Facebook group is to share information and encourage parents to push for immediate opening of the schools.

According to this group, the school district plans for a hybrid, slow-opening model. Kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms could open in mid October; and middle school and high school could open in two months. “Our kids deserve in-person learning right away,” they say.

The members of the group point out that other schools, both in Washington and around the country, are conducting in-classroom instruction.

Camas School Superintendent Jeff Snell addresses the media in February regarding their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the district would deal with school instruction for the remainder of the spring. Photo by Mike Schultz.
Camas School Superintendent Jeff Snell addresses the media in February regarding their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the district would deal with school instruction for the remainder of the spring. Photo by Mike Schultz.

Last week, Snell emailed school staff. 

“Before any major transition in the learning delivery model such as elementary schools moving to hybrid, we need three weeks of low/moderate COVID-19 activity levels,’’ Snell said in the email. “This means that the soonest we could make that transition is the week of 10/19.  We were scheduled to start kindergarten the week of October 5th.  With this week’s high COVID-19 activity level we are pushing that back to the week of 10/12.”

Schools have been teaching remotely for nearly a month. Many school districts in Clark County have been forced to layoff teachers and staff due to declining enrollment. At their last meeting, the members of the Camas School Board voted unanimously on two resolutions, eliminating 140 positions and reducing paid work hours for other employees. 

“It is very difficult to bring these resolutions forward,” Snell said at the time.

Some parents have not been happy with the quality of online instruction and moved their children to either private schools or homeschooling. In those situations, school districts lose funding from the state that is allocated on a “per enrolled student” model.

The Camas parents Facebook page Open Camas Schools gives parents a place to share concerns and issues, hoping for an immediate change to in-school instruction for their children. Graphic courtesy of Open Camas Schools Facebook page.
The Camas parents Facebook page Open Camas Schools gives parents a place to share concerns and issues, hoping for an immediate change to in-school instruction for their children. Graphic courtesy of Open Camas Schools Facebook page.

One parent of the Facebook group stated: “I have pulled my kids out of CSD this year and I am homeschooling them. I have done this for several reasons, but the number one reason is that last year’s online school year was not a good experience, which I realize the teachers were not prepared for. But that was 3 months of learning my kids did not get. I was not willing to risk any more time being wasted.”

The online discussion and debate has been respectful, yet vigorous. “What is the difference between a teacher going to work vs a grocery clerk vs waitress vs healthcare worker?” asked one parent, before answering their own question. “The only difference is the teachers union! We all have to go to work. So should the teachers! We all are ‘risking’ our lives.There are doctors, nurses, medical assistants that never had the option to not work! They were on the front lines!”

Many suggest that schools allow parents to make the choice of either online or in-classroom instruction. One person indicated offering both would be too complex.  

“There are significant complexities to accommodating in person and online education,” this person stated. “There are so many logistical layers in education already and then add in a dynamic that would implode the already complex system.”

One high school teacher (from a different district) shared that they are working “double time” and that 100 percent of the double time is attributed to the online learning requirements. They also shared that they are essentially not allowed to flunk a student for failing to complete assignments or failing to pass exams. These kinds of stories are obviously very concerning to parents who expect excellence.

“CSD shouldn’t base their decisions on trying to make parents happy but base it on what is best for the kids,” stated one parent. “I also know there is not a perfect solution for everyone.”

A different parent weighs in. “The private schools in the area appear to have it figured out. Yes, they are smaller, but still have all the same challenges.’’

The Riverside Christian School (RCS) in Washougal opened for in-school learning on Sept. 8. Each morning, students line up six feet apart. Teachers use a no-touch thermometer and take each student’s temperature. The children are allowed to enter the school if they have a normal temperature.

Classrooms are disinfected regularly. Chairs are spaced six feet apart, and children age 5 and older wear masks at all times. 

The school is reportedly full.

“Maybe Camas School district could pay CCA to teach Camas Schools how to do their jobs,” said one parent of the Facebook group. “Once again, there is always risk, that’s life. If teachers and family’s don’t want to assume the risk, stay home. The truth is the risk is 1/100 what they have scared people into believing. I believe 90% want to get back to school, 5% are unsure. Why are we allowing 5% to dictate our kids well being?”

Mental health issues

One parent posted a news story about the mental health issues children are suffering. Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth reported it was experiencing double the number of admissions of suicidal children compared to the past. reported last week:

“The hospital admitted 29 children last month after they attempted suicide. For the year, the hospital said it has seen 192 of these patients, which is more than double the number they admitted during the same period five years ago.

“We see kids every day, telling us they’re struggling. They wish they can go back to their normal lives,” said Dr. Kia Carter, medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s.

Carter said the delayed return to school — and return to normal life — is leaving some children with a sense of hopelessness.

“The vast majority of the patients Cook Children’s is treating have been young girls between 13 and 15 years old. Carter urged parents to watch for even mild changes in behavior with children and don’t wait to ask for help.”

One teacher shared the following perspective.

“I have been an educator in Camas for 22+ years and want to offer a couple things here. First, if your student is struggling with workload, please reach out to their teachers, counselor, and admin in the building. I, personally, instruct my kids to only work for a set time and then call it good and turn it in. Dr. Snell cannot micro manage all classrooms and communication with teachers is your first line of assistance. 

“Second, please know that your teachers are working harder than they ever have,’’ the educator said. “We know it is not perfect. Constructive communication is so helpful. We strive to do right by our kids.”

Another parent indicated the problem comes from the OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). That was quickly refuted by another parent.

“The superintendent of Washington state does not dictate when we are allowed to begin. It is up to each school district,’’ one parent said. “Governor Inslee clearly states in his back to school plan that each school district has the power to make their own decision regarding opening. So Jeff Snell can make that decision, just like the Mead School District superintendent did for his schools in Spokane. They are open. There are no ‘governor’s orders’ that have to be followed in this situation.”

Story after story is being shared in a heartfelt manner by frustrated parents.

“My daughter’s teacher is wonderful and is doing the best she can,’’ a parent said. “We have spoken with her. Unfortunately, she cannot fix what is wrong and neither can our daughter. We are not teachers and our home is not a school. Kids are different with their teachers and in school around other children. It’s part of the process.

“Our daughter can’t just raise her hand and ask the teacher a question,’’ the parent added. “Yes, I know there are means to do this if need be, but it is not that simple. I am sure as a teacher you understand how complex children are. What is going on now is damn near sending kids home with a textbook and expecting them to learn. They are basically just doing homework.

“I’m telling you… it’s not working,’’ the parent said. “If you want examples read these comments. People aren’t making them up because they think the virus is a joke… they are explaining that it is not working.”

Strategies from around the world

One parent referenced a July Science magazine article. It stated in part: 

“Pediatricians and educators began to voice concern that school closures were doing more harm than good, especially as evidence mounted that children rarely develop severe symptoms from COVID-19, the parent said.

“By early June, more than 20 countries had started to reopen schools. When Science looked at strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, some encouraging patterns emerged. Together, they suggest a combination of keeping student groups small and requiring masks and some physical distancing helps keep schools and communities safe, and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home.”

One Camas family chose to do homeschooling for their children. The mom shared the following with Clark County Today.

“I have a different view of going back to school than this group,’’ the parent said. “They are pushing for any in person scenario (hybrid, masks, social distancing). I have thought a lot about if I send my kids back, what exactly am I sending them back into?  I feel with this group and many other parents, we are not asking the right questions.   Sadly, we are forced into a desperate situation (which I understand), but we should not compromise at the expense of our children’s emotional and physical health.  

“My 5th grader wanted to go back more than anything,’’ the parent added. “When deciding to homeschool, I actually sat him down to get his input.  We discussed social distancing and masks using the plan laid out by the school district.  He was upset by this and made it clear that is not how he wanted to go back.  He is such a loving, inquisitive and social kid.  This scenario would be torture for him as with many other kids. “

The Camas School District plan for a phased return to in-person learning includes the following statement.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics ‘strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school recommendation of having students physically present in school (AAP, June 2020).”

A parent who was a former mental health counselor shared the following.

“Right now, in the opinion of basically everyone but a few in this group seem to believe, the dangers of not going back to school far outweigh the dangers of them going back,’’ the parent said. “If it means that my kids are not able to be around their grandparents for a while that may have to be. 

“But my kids need interaction, they need real teaching, and they need to feel some sense of normalcy. It’s the lack of normalcy and the not knowing that has contributed to so much depression, anxiety and grief during this time.”

Regular meetings of the school board are held at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The next meeting is tonight (Sept. 28). Board meetings have been held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote meeting information can be obtained here.