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Guest columnist Stephanie S. Hockman: Amherst school reopening creates a barrier to education



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

When will Amherst Regional Public School students return to the classroom? On Sept. 11, Superintendent Dr. Michael Morris announced a tentative agreement between the district and Amherst Pelham Education Association that creates a barrier to education for our students. The tentative plan is inequitable and discriminatory.

The district has been using the following three words “Access, Participation, Benefit” and visual to define equity. The tentative agreement conflicts with the district’s visual rendition of equity. Under the tentative agreement, as of Oct. 1, a small portion of our students are standing on a tall box experiencing the game, while all other students are at home watching the game on TV.

On Oct. 19, some additional students will experience the game in person. Then months later, perhaps February 2021, all students would attend a few innings in person. If the district honors its definition of equity, the district will remove barriers to attendance. Denying in-person instruction for some students is creating a barrier to learning unnecessarily. Our community schools should be dismantling barriers, not erecting them.

In addition, the current plan violates the district’s policy on discrimination. As found in their policies and procedures, “The districts do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, age, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic status, political party, or disability in admission to, access to, employment in, or treatment by its programs and activities. The districts’ policy of nondiscrimination extends to students, staff, and the public with whom it does business.”

Directly contradicting this policy, the tentative plan discriminates among students based on age (grades) and perceived economic status.

Under the metrics in the tentative plan, my children would be denied all in-person instruction until Nov. 16. After that date, they would be denied in-person instruction four out of every five days until possibly February, after which they would only be denied three out of every five days of in-person instruction. It is also possible my teenagers won’t receive the valuable in-person instruction by teachers or benefit from peer socialization, key components of public education, the entire academic year.

Are we willing to accept inequity, barriers to education, and discrimination and fail our next generation? With our current metrics in the district at 10 new cases/100,000 and well below a 2.5% positive test rate, we are far below the transmission metrics outlined in the tentative agreement. Therefore, grades 7-12 should begin in-person instruction along with all other students on Oct. 1. If current negotiations don’t allow for such flexibility, at a minimum we should revert to the previously approved plan on Aug. 6.

In a community that prides itself on equity (the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “freedom from bias or favoritism”), why are we allowing the APEA and the district to create barriers to education and discriminate against our students based on their age and their economic status?

As a community and as caregivers, our children deserve equity in education, not barriers, and equal access for all.

Stephanie Hockman, of Pelham, has children in the ARPS district.