Guggenheim parent criticizes Port district’s reopening: ‘Are you sure you’re ready?’

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The parent of a student Guggenheim Elementary School is criticizing the Port Washington school district, saying that the system was not prepared for reopening. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Dan Chuzmir, the parent of a student at Guggenheim Elementary School, asked in an email to the Port Washington school district.

Addressed to district Superintendent Michael Hynes, Chuzmir’s email claims the school system “had no interest in a virtual plan” for when students returned for the school year in the midst of COVID-19, and claims the district had been pushing for students to return in person when the schools were unable to accommodate them.

“From the very beginning, it has been clear that you have had no interest in a virtual plan,” Chuzmir wrote. “You have done everything possible to turn parents away from it, to make it clear that it is a nuisance to you. There have been no details, no consistency, no resources. And now this: parents being bullied into sending their kids to school in an unsafe environment. Because what parents want to separate their child from a teacher they love? Or commit to a full year of remote without knowing any details or what the quality of education will be?”

In August, parents in the district were given the option of an entirely remote learning experience or a hybrid choice where students would attend school in person for part of the week and learn remotely for the remainder, with the deadline to request an entirely remote schedule extended at one point.

The announcement met with backlash and protests from parents of students at the district’s five elementary schools, including Gugge  nheim, who wanted a five-day in-person option for the younger students. The district eventually unveiled a plan to phase in full-time classes for the elementary schools, which began Monday.

“At every opportunity, you remind us that in-person provides a better education,” Chuzmir wrote. “Do you think we don’t know that? It is not the in-person environment itself that makes us unwilling to send our daughter five days a week. Rather, it is our complete lack of confidence in the preparedness of the district.”

Chuzmir further claimed that the district and staff do not follow up on each student’s daily health questionnaire (“If not filled out, nothing happens”), that children are spaced 3 to 5 feet apart instead of 6 feet, and that in the first two weeks of school, sneeze guards were falling off the desks “because no one thought to attach them.”

The claims come in the wake of positive cases being reported at Schreiber High School, John J. Daly Elementary School and Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School in the past month.

“Our worries come from experience, not blind fear,” Chuzmir said. “On her first day in school during the phase-in, my daughter learned the importance of hand-washing. She then used the restroom, where she found…no soap. Are you sure you’re ready?”

He added that he had run into an elementary teacher in the district while “in town” and talked about the “disastrous start to the school year.”

“One thing she said struck me: ‘They should have had dedicated teachers for the virtual kids from the start. But now that the kids have gotten to know their teachers and classmates, what kind of person would rip them out and make them start over?'” Chuzmir said.

An officer in the Port Washington Teachers Association said in August following a walkout that was not union-sanctioned that the instructors of the district were “frustrated, anxious and scared for their health and safety.”

“What matters now is that you, your staff, and the board have not earned our confidence, and you have no right to push a plan that shows even more disregard for the needs of kids and their parents,” Chuzmir wrote. “Taking kids out of their classes, putting 65 kids with one teacher, and demanding a full-year commitment is entirely unacceptable. Come up with something better.”

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