Amber Hoxha, a Scarborough parent, discussed challenges she and other parents face through the hybrid learning model, where students are in school two and a half days a week and at home for two and a half days. Catherine Bart photo

SCARBOROUGH — A group of parents and students rallied at Memorial Park in  Scarborough on April 28, saying they want the state to have equal access to in-person education.

The participants made posters in support of the Scarborough School District as well as other school districts in Maine to resume full-time learning for every student.

One of the speakers, Amber Hoxha, a Scarborough parent, said that she wants to see more attention brought to the uncertainty surrounding in-person learning plans, hoping to reach Gov. Janet Mills.

“It appears the world around us is attempting to resume their regular schedules,” Hoxha said. “However, our students are left in limbo with no formal action plan or timeline of when to expect to be back to in-person learning.”

Many parents are struggling to balance work and their children’s education on days that they are learning from home, she said.

“Personally, when the pandemic surfaced I was fortunate enough to stay at home with my two children and put my career on hold,” she said. “On the other hand, I have many very close friends and family who are juggling full-time work with children at home. I am sad, very sad, watching the children struggle and try to adapt to remote learning.”

A parent of two kindergarteners, Laura Foss, a South Portland resident, said she is frustrated with a lack of transparency and communication she sees in her district.

“We’re now finding a situation where there’s not access to equal education,” she said. “Public education should be a privilege and a right for all of our children. For South Portland, there’s been no active communication about the plan, and that’s left a lot of parents frustrated and confused about what’s going to happen even come the fall.”

South Portland’s district has rejected ideas of returning students back to school according to age groups, preferring an “all-or-nothing” approach, Foss said. The community has not been surveyed as frequently as Foss said it should be either, especially in a time where situations are continuously changing.

“It’s in no way a lack of effort from teachers but hybrid education is not comparable to learning in school,” she said.

In Scarborough, the Board of Education and school administration examined plans for reopening schools full time in the fall on April 15, but reopening this spring was not part of the discussion.

Hoxha said that in the hybrid learning model, students are possibly travelling on their days out of the school building, which could have an impact on transmitting COVID-19.

“It’s even worse in the hybrid situation because we have kids that go a couple days and then they’re going to Urban Air or going out to a park or soccer practice even, and you’re still furthering that community transmission where if they were in school and a specific spot five days a week we might be in a better situation than we are now with some of those towns that are deemed yellow,” she said.

Winnie Lee, a Scarborough parent, said she felt that students would be safer in the school buildings.

“May 1, I think, everything is open, but our schools are only open two and a half days,” she said.

The last student day for Scarborough schools this year is June 18, according to the official calendar.

Hoxha asked Mills to continue to be a leader in the way the state handles the pandemic.

“We are all responsible to make this happen,” she said. “We recognize we need to stop placing the blame on one another, federal versus state; guidelines versus restrictions; CDC versus DOE; parents versus teachers. What matters most is the end result.”

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