How it all started a year ago today….

August 3, 2020 ~ My first communication to Dr. Scanlon and the sitting members of the WCASD board regarding the pending vote on the WCASD 2020-2021 reopening plan, originally set for a HYBRID return changed at the last minute by Dr. Scanlon to a recommendation for FULL REMOTE. Below is the letter I sent then, and also published to our Facebook group advocating for the choice of in person instruction.

I share this to illustrate who I am as a parent, a community member, and as an advocate.

TO: The sitting members of the WCASD School Board

Citing the two resources linked below, I request that this evening you cast a NO vote for the proposal of all virtual “Remote 2.0” return to school for the West Chester Area School District (WCASD).

Daily Local News – Dinniman: Parents, school officials should review school reopening report

Considerations for Reopening Pennsylvania Schools – Summary Prepared by the Office of State Senator Andy Dinniman

As a participant in the recent Parent Task Force, I am concerned that we continue to approach this from an overly complicated angle – all students remote, or all students in person (full time or hybrid). Understanding the public health concerns – and I do as an employee of Pfizer who is racing the clock to deliver a safe and effective vaccine – I respectfully request that you simplify the options.

  • Option 1 – WCASD Cyber for those Families & Teachers who feel the risk is too great at this time.
  • Option 2 – WCASD Brick & Mortar for those Families & Teachers who feel the risks associated with remote instruction FAR exceed the risk of attending school in person.

It truly can be that simple. If the most recent survey results indicating a 40% commitment to Brick & Mortar – regardless of the distancing – can be extrapolated across the district then you clearly have a path forward that reduces the in person attendance to less than 50% of the current capacity constraints for safe distancing. At a minimum we should be considering this for our elementary population who has an Infection Fatality Rate of LESS than 0.0015% for 5-9 year olds and LESS than 0.00032% for 10-19 year olds. And that is IF they acquire COVID-19.

Any option otherwise puts an unfair and detrimental burden on our WCASD families. Starting with families who cannot afford the “alternative” care options whether they be ACP or some other source of childcare or tutoring. People say the district cannot afford in person instruction when there is a $20M reserve, but you expect our Title 1 district to absorb monthly costs that are quickly exceeding $3,000 a month to support just ONE CHILD during a hybrid or remote schedule.

Next, I ask that you consider the significant negative impacts that have already been incurred by our Special Education or Pupil Services population. As the parent of a child with a 504 for multiple disorders and another child with a medical disability of speech apraxia I speak from experience that despite our best efforts to create the Remote 2.0 experience for our children March – June they struggled and endured significant emotional stress. So much so that one of my children has required therapy this summer to continue to deal with feelings of depression as we face a long fall of remote instruction. An 8 year old should not be stripped of his rights to a quality education when there are teachers & families willing to participate in Brick & Mortar instruction.

Both of my children deserved more support than they received this past spring and my research for this fall has not proven to alleviate our primary fears. Increased screen time will only further increase the emotional load on them, and further regress their academic, emotional, and social development in such measure it will never be fully repaired. And across our district we are already seeing significant increases in mental health complications. Does brick & mortar stress people out? Of course it does, and those families & teachers already have Option 1. But for the remainder of us we are sleepless and riddled with stress and anxiety because we have no form of Option 2, and the current criteria to reopen leaves almost zero hope we will open at all in the 2020-2021 school year.

Furthermore, while I realize it is not the primary purpose of the district to provide to meals or supervise our most vulnerable students I find myself compelled to speak up for them. We are a family of means – we could walk away tomorrow and pay for tutors, private school, etc – but to do so even as a temporary solution creates an ugly precedent for what is called “majority privilege”. I will not support a plan that excludes this most vulnerable portion of our student community and I will not support a plan that advocates the solution is “good enough” because it can be weathered by “majority privilege”. There are children who need meals, and I am aware alternatives are being offered, but what about the child who shows signs of physical abuse or begins to withdraw in a classroom setting signaling an issue to a teacher? For this child school may be the only safe and supportive place in their lives. Is that a dramatic statement? Maybe. But given the statistics I shared above, I challenge you to say who is more vulnerable. The child already at risk today due to domestic violence or the child who has not and may not contract COVID-19.

I realize my communication is coming in right under the wire, but I appreciate you taking the time to digest my message. I look forward to hearing from you if you wish to reply, and best of luck in making this critical decision this evening.

Best Regards,
Stacey M. Whomsley

What has happened in the year since the WCASD board voted 8 to 1 in favor of a REMOTE 2.0?

  • Academic performance plummeted across all categories tracked by the district (grade, ethnicity, etc) with the largest impact on our Hispanic students.
  • Reporting of domestic violence and child abuse is at an all time low, while mental health admissions for minors and suicides are at an all time time.
  • Parents have been ignored, intimidated, falsely accused of being bullies or plaintiffs in legal actions against the district, told they are guilty of “racial misappropriation” for ringing the alarm bells on the academic crisis in our district and it’s impact on minority students.

Did we eventually get the kids back in school full time? Yes, but not until April 2021 despite the fact that even now – almost 18 months into COVID-19 precautions – there remains less than 6.5% positive cases in all of Chester County, approximately 524,989 residents. And here we are a year later as the district prepares to walk back it’s June approved health & safety plan for the August 2021 opening and implement a universal mask mandate DESPITE vaccinating teachers & staff last spring. DESPITE a high level of vaccination across Chester County. DESPITE the fact that the WCASD ran its summer academy with a mask optional policy, which no negative events reported.

Here we are 365 days later faced with another bait and switch. All in the name of “safety”.

Yet we – the parents and guardians of our students – have not abdicated our parental rights to our School Directors or Administration. Yet here we are a year later with the WCASD feeling it is their place to decide what is best for each of our children with no community dialogue. No meetings. No surveys. And no recourse other than public comment at board and committee meetings to request that they respect our right to make an informed decision about what is best for our students.

What does that look like for me? Well if you have followed my family’s story at all then you already know that we were forced to withdraw our oldest son last fall after the WCASD refused – REFUSED – to allow him in person instruction after suffering a concussion at school. Leaving him medically restricted from using iPads or computers for almost 3 months. Despite having a 504 already in place, and knowing it would mean 3 months of his 5yth grade year. They denied access to his education to ensure “cohort integrity” because he didn’t have an IEP. Meanwhile down the road at Hillsdale Elementary the same administration allowed a student with a 504 to attend in person while denying my son, and others with medical limitations, the ability to attend in person.

Our younger son, who has a medical disability but has been denied a 504 or an IEP, has suffered serious regression in his speech and must now re-enter private speech therapy to regain what he lost due to remote learning and universal mask mandates. Not knowing what the 2021-2022 school year would bring we reserved him a spot at the same private school we were forced to move our older son to the prior year. We held that spot while simultaneously hoping, praying, that the WCASD would course correct and allow parents & guardians to decide what is best for their children. It is with great disappointment that it appears we are repeating history – with a imminent universal mask mandate – yielding to fear instead of respecting families. We have not made a final decision yet for our youngest, but trust that we – his parents – will do what is in his best interest because that is our responsibility.

Knowing what is on the line for my own children, I am that much more committed to restoring the rights of students, parents, and staff in WCASD. Because every student deserves to be afforded the right to decide what is best for them and their academic development.

Because it should always be about the students first.

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