A parent Facebook group with 967 members is advocating for the return to in-seat learning for middle and high school students.

“CoMo Parents for In-Seat School” is planning “What About Us?” student sit-ins at middle and high schools Monday morning, to be held at the times they would normally go to school.

Students are encouraged to wear white T-shirts with “what about us?” on them. Students are supposed to attend their virtual classes but from the parking lots of their schools.

Although the Columbia School Board voted to send elementary school students back to their classrooms four days a week starting Monday, the district’s older students remain in virtual learning mode for the time being.

After the board meeting Oct. 12, group co-leader Megan Potter saw an increase in the membership. The group is collecting signatures on a petition calling for in-seat school. At the board meeting, her husband, John Potter, presented a petition, which at that point had 540 names.

Megan Potter, who has two elementary school students and one sixth-grader, combined her previous Facebook group with Kelly Hoover’s “CoMo Parents for In-Seat School” so parents have one place to gather.

Hoover created the page in September after keeping an eye on the district’s COVID-19 tracker and seeing it dip below the earlier standard of 50 active cases per 10,000 people. Families, teachers and others have closely followed the 14-day tracker, which the district uses as one measure in assessing the viability of in-person learning models. On Friday, the number was about 39 per 10,000.

“I made the group for frustrated parents to come together and come up with constructive ways to get kids in-seat,” Hoover said.

Potter is pushing for some type of concrete timeline so parents can plan their schedules. Her goal, at the least, is to see a plan presented to the board soon.

“I feel like we just don’t know anything, like we are kept in the dark,” Potter said.

Hoover shares the same desire. “Our ultimate goal is to have transparency from the board,” she said.

“If elementary can do four days a week, why can’t we?” Potter said.

Hoover thinks conversation among people with differing points of view is critical now.

“I feel like there has been a divide in the community against those parents who want in-seat and those who want to stay virtual,” Hoover said. “We shouldn’t be pitted against each other, and parents should get to choose the option they want.”

Parent Jason DePrima met Thursday with School Board member Chris Horn and another family to discuss their concerns.

“We had a respectful two-way dialogue,” DePrima said.

In a 4-3 vote, Horn opposed the four-day model for elementary schools.

“I just wanted to know why they voted no,” DePrima said.

He said he did not expect to change Horn’s mind but rather wanted to foster discussion and present his views. DePrima said he asked Horn to talk with the board about the possibility of having a public meeting or a Q&A during which parents and the board could speak with one another.

“I think that could calm everybody down,” DePrima said.

He witnesses the virtual learning spectrum in his own kids. He has two older children and sees one excelling in virtual classes while the other, an honor roll student, struggles to keep up.

“I get to see both sides in my own home,” he said.

Alissa Wood, another member of the parents’ group, met Friday with Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and state Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, chair of the Senate Education Committee, to present a compilation of stories from parents and students who have struggled with virtual learning. Wood planned to send the letters to Gov. Mike Parson after the meeting.

Although Wood does not have children in high school, she feels “passionately” about advocating for their return to the classroom full time. Wood said she feels the district is “not focusing on education” and is listening only to a small group of people against the reopening of schools.

“Students need consistency,” said Wood, who has a four children in elementary school. “We need to also think about low-income families and what they will do on Wednesdays ... Kids need to be in school.”

  • I am a graduate Education Reporter, Fall 2020. I am studying Magazine Writing. Please reach me at pskpg@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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