PENNSBURY >> More than 150 parents, children and taxpayers picketed Friday morning in front of the Pennsbury Administration building demanding that schools in the district be reopened.
The protesters, made up mostly of moms and children, blocked Yardley Avenue in Fallsington for about an hour waving signs and chanting, “Open our schools” and “We deserve a room. No more Zoom.”
In early September, the district reopened with 100 percent virtual learning and will continue in that format until at least February 2 when it may begin offering a hybrid model with the start of the second semester.
“I am totally shocked by the turnout today,” said behavior consultant and district mom Joanie Bentz, who was hoping for at least 50 people to show up. “We all know why we’re here. It’s for these little guys standing in front of us,” shevtold the crowd.
“We know that their needs are not being met at this moment. And it’s not your fault and it’s not their fault. All of us were put in a position where we had to totally change our way of life.”
Bentz said the Center for Disease Control recently updated its fatality rate for COVID-19. “For ages 0 to 19, the survival rate is 99.997 percent. So why are these schools still closed?” she asked.
“The Catholic schools in the area are all open. And the kids are coming in every day. We also have the Philadelphia School District, which is opening up with a hybrid model on Nov. 17,” she said.
And both Neshaminy and Council Rock are moving to hybrid models this fall, she said.
Meanwhile, Pennsbury “hasn’t given us any kind of inkling that they are going to open up," she said. "This is making parents and kids frustrated. They want to get back. There is no reason Pennsbury cannot at least open up hybridly next month.”
Bentz, who formerly worked as a special education case manager, also raised the concerns of the special needs parents of the district, some of who attended the rally.
“Consistency is one of the biggest, most critical needs of these children,” said Bentz. “They need consistency in their lives and they are not getting that while they’re at home in front of a computer screen getting bumped off or they can’t hear the teacher or they are subconscious that other kids can see them.
“Not all children are virtual learners,” she said. “And as a former teacher I don’t believe any child is a virtual learner. First of all the light from a computer screen affects the child’s eyes and can cause some ADHD issues and exasperate ADHD.
“The impersonality, the dehumanization of a computer screen and not being able to have that social contact that they so desperately need is detrimental,” she said.
Bentz added that a western Pennsylvania judge recently ruled that the 14th Amendment is not being upheld under the COVID restrictions. “Special needs and regular education students are not being protected under this current COVID plan. And this is in violation of our 14th Amendment. Our rights are being infringed upon for our children. They have a right to an appropriate education and they are not getting it right now.”
As speaker after speaker addresses the gathering, the rally evolved into a support group session for parents frustrated by the virtual learning and not being able to help their struggling children.
The parent of a first and second grader and a former teacher admitted that even she feels like she’s “drowning.
“I did this for 10 years and I’m struggling,” she said. “Even as a public school teacher I’m considering home schooling,” she continued. “Because it’s not working. We’re creating the perfect storm with no solution. For those who are struggling, it’s okay. You’re doing a good job. You’re standing up for your kids and that’s all that you can do.”
A seventh grader at Charles Boehm Middle School, received loud applause as she picked up the microphone.
“We are tired of sitting at a computer screen six hours a day. We are sitting there stressed out because sometimes network or connection issues happen,” she said. “And then we’re forced to do more work on the computer after six hours of it. If you don’t let us go back to school we’re all going to drop out of Pennsbury and go to a different district that will let us go to school,” she shouted, to a roar from the gathering.
“Let the money follow the kids,” one parent shouted in support of school choice.
“It’s kind of hard being on the Zoom meet for six hours,” shared an elementary school student. “We need to go back to school and have social contact.”
The parent of two special needs children said by the time Friday rolls around she’s feeling totally defeated and physically and mentally exhausted following a week of Autism meltdowns and anxiety attacks from online learning.
“I’m tired of feeling like a bad mom. I’m tired of feeling like a failure. I’m tired of watching my boys struggle. I’m tired of questioning every decision I make regarding this school year,” she said.
“We’re all good moms and dads and parents. We’re just all trying to do what is best for our kids and our families,” she said. “There are some kids out there that are doing okay with the virtual learning and they may prefer it, but it’s not working for a lot of us.”
Jennifer Blohm, who organized the Back to School rally, said she did it for the children.
“The only thing they are entitled to is an education. That’s it. They need an education. And as Pennsbury teachers, school board and the administration look at these kids who are falling behind need to do better for our children.
“Enough already,” she said. “Let’s see our kids succeed.”