CASEY COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — As the pandemic keeps thousands of Kentucky students learning from home, parents with students continuing virtual learning in Casey County told LEX 18 they are concerned their kids are not receiving sufficient education to progress to the next grade level.
Jamacia Wathen has an eighth-grader and a high school junior in Casey County Schools. She said prior to the pandemic when her kids learned in-person, she was mostly satisfied with the schools her children were attending.
Casey County Schools are offering in-person learning but Wathen chose to keep her son and daughter virtual due to medical reasons. As virtual learning has progressed, she said her and her children's frustration has grown.
"During this pandemic and during this situation, it's like everybody's given up, including teachers. And if their children are seeing our teachers give up, who's to say that they're [our children are] not going to give up?" she questioned.
Wathen explained the comments she said she heard from a school counselor when she called Casey County Middle School for answers.
"My daughter has always been an A, B, C student. Never lower than a C. And this year, she's getting D's, which is very, very concerning. So, we call the school and we were informed that half of the students in the county are failing this year. And that's not just virtual students, that's virtual and in-person students, they're failing. So, to me, I feel like the school system's failing."
Wathen, and other parents LEX 18 spoke to, explained the online submission process has been failing students, forcing them to re-do dozens of assignments.
"My daughter submits work that doesn't ever go through. When she submits it, it's submitted blank," Wathen said.
For Lynn Cooper's granddaughter who has a learning disability, re-doing that work adds stress Cooper said is overwhelming for her eighth-grader.
"She has turned those assignments in because I've seen her turn them in," Cooper said.
The most frustrating component of virtual learning in Casey County according to several parents is the deviation from the schedule students have been given for the school day that is listed as 45-minute classes.
Wathen said some of those classes for her middle schooler are as short as 10 minutes or not happening at all.
"Teachers are constantly just sitting there staring blankly into the camera they'll say, 'Well this is what we're doing today, do it.' Pretty much. My son, who's in high school, he gets five minutes, maybe not even five minutes, twice a day with two teachers and that's it. That's long enough for them to say, 'Are you doing your work?' And that's it," Wathen said.
LEX 18 reached out to Casey County Superintendent Marion Sowders repeatedly requesting an interview to discuss the school's policies for virtual learning. He responded with the following statement:
I LOVE to talk about our amazing district. Our staff has been very responsive in our efforts to keep our students engaged and learning every day in these very unpredictable times We currently offer in-person learning as well as the virtual option. If a student is virtual by choice, we utilize many online platforms such as Google Classroom and Google Meet to connect, teach and interact with our students. We know and believe that the classroom is the best place for our students to be for a well-rounded education; however, many students must continue learning virtually for various reasons. We support all of our students and are committed to excellence. Our staff has been phenomenal during these unprecedented times.
Cooper explained some points she brought to the Superintendent's attention when she talked to him on the phone earlier in January.
"I told him kind of what was going on," she said. "My granddaughter had three teachers who aren't even there yesterday, who left messages on virtual, 'This is what you're supposed to do, do it.' My granddaughter has a math teacher who goes through stuff so fast that she can't keep up with him. I've sat there and watched some of it, and noticed that he gets the answers wrong."
Cooper said she wishes she could sit with her granddaughter every day to help ensure she is understanding what the teacher is explaining but said she has to go to work.
"It's a struggle for everybody, but we all have to make it work," said Cooper. "I mean, we can't just say, 'well, we're just gonna put everything on hold until this is over with.' I mean our kids have to go on with their lives."
Wathen and other parents said they want to see teachers online for the expected time and believe that would help their students have a better chance of success.
"They need to be online just as long as they would be in the classroom. They need to actually be doing lectures instead of just staring at a computer or throwing the work at the kids. They need to be there and be available for these children especially for those children who have parents that work; that can't be there, and the parents who are having trouble have their own education-wise with reading and writing that can't help their children, you know, they need to be there," said Wathen. "Teachers need to be present. Not just sitting there staring at a screen, they need to be present. They need to be teaching."