Jamie Agard hates to drive past Brooklyn Primary School because she hates to hear her son weeping.
Jaxon Agard is a third-grader.
And like his classmates, the 8-year-old sees his teacher, and his friends, not in person but on a computer screen.
Jamie rates the online version of classes the Baker School District debuted Sept. 8 as a vast improvement over the system the district had to hastily set up this spring when the coronavirus pandemic closed schools.
But better, in her estimation, is still not nearly good enough.
Agard said her son is struggling, and she fears that the longer online education continues, the farther behind he will be.
That concern is prompting Agard and some other parents to lobby the Baker School Board, which meets this evening, to return to in-person classes.
“These kids need to be in a classroom setting,” Agard said Wednesday morning as she prepared to go to work for the first time since online classes began.
Agard, who is a single mother, said she took the first two weeks off to help Jaxon adjust.
“He can’t keep up with the pace that’s going on the computer,” she said. “When my son’s in tears every day, and he’s afraid to raise his hand and interrupt, that’s just not working.”
Agard said that although she’s frustrated with what she sees as the limitations of online education, she is grateful for the efforts of the school district and its employees.
“His teacher’s great,” she said. “The district has done a really great job. I commend them for that.”
Agard said she’s not as worried, from an academic standpoint, about her older son, Zander Arriaga, who’s a 17-year-old senior.
But she’s saddened by the reality that he is missing the start of his final year of high school and his last year as a football player for the Bulldogs.
“I know it’s affecting him, but he’s not showing it as much as my third-grader,” Agard said.
She said Jaxon cries when she drives by Brooklyn.
She said she’s fortunate that her parents live in Baker City and can be present when Jaxon is taking online classes.
Without family support, Agard said her older son would have to shoulder that responsibility, which she thinks is unfair since he too has online classes to attend.
Agard said she feels great sympathy for parents who lack that option.
“How many families out there are having the same stress?” she said. “It’s terrible.”
Agard believes a return to in-person classes is justified based on the number of COVID-19 cases in Baker County — 92, as of Wednesday.
Ten of Oregon’s 35 other counties have had fewer cases.
“My opinion is this is political, the numbers just don’t add up,” Agard said. “There is no reason why Baker should not be in school.”
Agard contends that the epidemiological evidence, which shows that the elderly, and particularly those with underlying medical conditions, are vastly more vulnerable to COVID-19 than children.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, no Oregonian younger than 20 has died from the virus. And of the 4,725 people 19 or younger who have contracted the virus, 55 were ever hospitalized as a result — about one-tenth of 1 percent.
Agard believes that even if students are infected, they are “going to recover just fine.”
She acknowledges that some people disagree with her position, but she stands by her belief the effects of online classes are more dire for students than the virus might be.
Karen Shaw agrees with Agard about the need to have Baker students return to their regular classrooms.
Shaw has shared information on her Facebook page about how parents can participate in this evening’s school board meeting through Zoom.
“We’re going to hopefully storm the meeting and let people speak from their hearts,” Shaw said. “I think hearing from people and the parents of these kids is going to be the best thing.”
Shaw has seen firsthand how beneficial in-person instruction can be compared to the online version.
As a lead teacher at the Baker Head Start Center, Karen Shaw sees how the preschoolers in her classroom are thriving as they attend in-person classes daily.
Her own four children — ages 17, 15, 14 and 11 — the youngest of her family of eight children, aren’t so lucky, she says. They, like Agard’s two sons, are enrolled in the Baker School District’s comprehensive distance education program.
Shaw, who moved to Baker City from Pendleton about a year ago, hopes that she and other parents can influence the Baker School Board members to return as quickly as possible to in-person classes.
“Our kiddos are here,” she said of her Head Start students. “And my kiddos need to be in school.”
Shaw says her own children are self-motivated and competitive and strive to do well in their classes. But it’s the camaraderie of being with their friends and the loss of the benefits of athletic competition that especially concerns her for them.
She and her ex-husband share parenting of the four children. Her 17-year-old, a senior at Baker High School, and her 11-year-old, a sixth-grader at Keating Elementary, are at Keating with their father and his wife. She has a 15-year-old and a 14-year-old who are at home with her.
“I’m five minutes from home,” she says, which allows her to make a quick trip to the house if her children get in a bind with their online learning. “For people who don’t have a support system, I don’t know how they do it.”
Her daughter, who’s a senior, was especially devastated about not being able to return to classes and participate in sports as her final year of high school got underway, Shaw said. The other three also are active in sports and miss their friends.
Shaw said she first took her concerns to Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett, who has been the county’s incident commander during the pandemic, and Bill Harvey, commission chairman. Bennett suggested she gather parents to meet with the Baker School Board during the Board’s September meeting, which starts tonight at 6 p.m. via the Zoom computer app. Information about how to log in to the meeting is available by calling the District Office, 541-524-2260, or on the District website baker5j.org under Boards & Committees.
Shaw says she believes that the declining number of new COVID-19 cases in Baker County should allow the District to consider returning to in-person classes.
Although the rules are different for early childhood education, Shaw says the Head Start classrooms have been operating without any outbreak of the coronavirus.
Teachers and other adults working in the program wear masks while they are inside the building. They remove their masks when they go outside and the preschoolers are not required to wear masks.
“It’s going wonderfully. They’re thriving,” Shaw said of the preschool program.
Shaw said changes were made in the Head Start classrooms to accommodate the state guidelines during the summer program.
Shaw said she has talked to parents who have been in tears because of the hardships caused in their families by distance learning.
“I’m just trying to get the parents to have a voice and I’m hoping (the school board) will listen,” she said.