Wilton: What is a parent’s role in remote learning?

A letter from the Board of Education acknowledges the success Wilton schools have had so far this year in responding to the challenges of COVID-19.

A letter from the Board of Education acknowledges the success Wilton schools have had so far this year in responding to the challenges of COVID-19.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — Amidst some concerns from parents, the Board of Education and school administration is seeking to clarify its intention with regard to changes in policy and regulations around remote learning.

All Wilton public schools reopened Monday, Aug. 31, with full remote learning in anticipation of moving to a hybrid model beginning Sept. 8.

At last Thursday’s (Aug. 27) meeting, Superintendent of School Kevin Smith, however, had to try and clarify what he saw as some misunderstanding regarding the policy clarifications, which will probably be voted on at this Thursday’s regular meeting.

Like other districts nationwide, Wilton is re-crafting its policies in reaction to the online learning that became ubiquitous in the spring following the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent school closures — and is expected to continue for the indefinite future.

“This is a policy that’s been in existence for some time,” Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said Thursday night.

Demands from this new way of teaching, however—in particular the broad concept of students’ personal educational experiences and performances being veritably broadcast into people’s homes—has motivated school officials to do what they can to protect privacy while also not handicapping parents’ ability to aid their students in the process.

Policy changes under the heading of Real-Time Video Instruction Expectations mainly focus on two new sections—one of which is geared towards students, while the other more broadly speaks to others involved.

“We’re not permitting students to record audio or video sessions … We’re also prohibiting students from taking screenshots or other materials that they can share with others,” Smith said.

Likewise, he said, they’re expected to abide by the rudiments of online etiquette, including taking turns, muting their microphones when they’re not speaking, and generally being respectful of others.

“It should be the same as if they’re in their physical classroom,” he said.

But students aren’t the only variable in the equation, as adult caregivers will potentially be privy to the same live-action information.

That’s why he is also proposing the second piece, which broadly goes under the umbrella of guidelines for blended learning, and specifically speaks to caregivers.

“Individuals in the home other than the student are not permitted to participate in or be visible on the videoconference, or otherwise observe the lesson, other than reasonable adult supervision of the student,” the proposed policy reads.

Prior to last week’s board meeting, Smith received several emails that he said expressed concerns and misunderstanding regarding the wording.

“We’re not telling them that they can’t help their kids at home,” he said, but the worry is that they could potentially interfere with goings-on in the virtual classroom or — worse yet — could circulate information about other students.

At Thursday’s meeting during public comment several parents expressed great concern, in particular for elementary-age students, who may struggle with the technology as well as their focus.

“While I understand that teachers cannot handle additional family members disrupting class,” wrote parents Anna Williams and Jerry Griffin, “the idea that a five-year-old without adequate technology or reading skills, approaching the start of their school life, should be left alone in a room to manage their online education is absolutely absurd.”

“Each group has its own needs,” said wrote parent Kate Baldwin, advocating for different guidelines for different age groups. “They are not the same.”

“Asking parents to abandon their young children on the first day of distance learning, on a new platform, and/or in a new school is to say children’s mental well-being is negligible,” she wrote.

“What we are aiming to do here is strike a balance,” said Smith, emphasizing that the district wasn’t trying to keep parents from helping students.

“We certainly understand and want to support parents who are at home with our youngest learners and need to support them as they are engaged in remote learning,” he said.

“The ask is really one of maintaining confidentiality about other children in the classroom,” added Fran Kompar, director of digital learning.

One disgruntled parent bluntly accused the district of using secrecy to teach students things that, he said, then need to be “untaught at home.”

“The issue is not privacy,” wrote Mike McCormick. “It is that the BOE and teachers don’t want their parent to hear that they are (once again) teaching LGBTQIAP Bingo and related concepts, nonsense, and other things.”

“This school district hides behind privacy for any question it does not want to answer,” he wrote, saying the recent changes to the plan “don’t pass the sniff test.”

“That you are advocating that no parent can ‘listen in’ to remote classes is outrageous,” McCormick wrote.

Whether Smith’s clarification assuaged parent concerns is yet to be determined, but the answer will likely come on Thursday, Sept. 3, when the board will potentially vote on adopting the changes.