Kristen Merrill, a student representative on the Augusta Board of Education, shares her report Wednesday with other members of the board. Zoom screenshot

AUGUSTA — After hearing how Cony Middle and High School students have spent the first couple of months of the school year, Kristen Merrill, the Augusta Board of Education’s student representative, has turned to officials for answers to how students in quarantine can still succeed at school.

With no remote learning option, largely due to staffing and resource shortages, Augusta students must use online platforms to access their learning materials. Merrill said that can cause students to fall behind because they are not receiving instruction.

Merrill urged the school board look into fixing the issue because the COVID-19 pandemic “doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.”

“We understand the ability to have the remote option is complicated,” she said, “but getting work from Google Classroom and us students having to basically teach ourselves has been very difficult on said students.”

Merrill added some students have fallen behind because the pace of in-person classes can be different than online. Merrill said it feels “unfair” students have to catch up with their work when “nine times out of 10, they would rather be at school learning.”

Augusta Public Schools Superintendent James Anastasio tells members of the Augusta Board of Education on Wednesday that having students attend live classes virtually created more stress for teachers handling two learning environments at once, and “compromised the education of everyone.” Zoom screenshot

Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio said the issue is on his agenda for the school board’s November business meeting, but gave a short answer that Cony experimented with synchronous learning last year, with students attending live classes virtually.

He said it created more stress for teachers handling two learning environments at once, and “compromised the education of everyone.”

“They (teachers) have asked us and expressed in a number of ways: They don’t want to do it again,” Anastasio said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t, but issues of fatigue, stress and compromising education seem to be the biggest issues.”

Cony Principal Kim Silsby said teachers have “worked hard to meet the needs of students.” In some cases, she said, teachers have stayed after school to make sure students in quarantine or out sick have the materials they need, but she admitted Merrill’s point “has been a dilemma.”

The Augusta Board of Education meets in person Wednesday at Augusta City Center. The meeting was also livestreamed. Zoom screenshot

Board of Education member Kim Martin said her daughter has mentioned her friends are facing the challenges Merrill has noted. Martin wondered if a teacher could “hit record” when they start a lesson and upload it later for the students to review.

School board member Pia Holmes said if a student is out for any reason, “we owe it to the students to provide the lesson.” She acknowledged the stress on the teachers, but said if there is no lesson provided, it is going to impact student performance.

“It’s critical we think about the students,” Holmes said.

Silsby said there is a privacy challenge with recording a lesson and uploading it online, but Merrill suggested a recording be available only for students who request it.

“The challenge of that is students are speaking about things that are staying in the class,” Silsby said. “One challenge is if it goes out, where does it go? There is discomfort from the faculty, as well, but how do we maintain FERPA rights with that, we have grappled with it.”

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, a federal law that governs access to educational information and records by public entities, including publicly funded educational institutions, potential employers and foreign governments.

On the topic of COVID-19, Anastasio said the district’s implementation of universal masking and pool testing is working. He said there have been positive COVID-19 cases and some quarantined students, but “pool testing and universal masking reduced those numbers greatly from what we experienced in the past.”


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