Vocal parents call Stamford’s hybrid schedule ‘nearly impossible’

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — Nearly everyone agrees about one thing regarding Stamford schools’ in-person classroom schedule for the fall: It isn’t perfect.

But that’s where the agreement ends.

Administrators and supporters of the schedule, which is part of the district’s hybrid reopening plan, acknowledge it has setbacks and will present challenges, but believe it is the best option for students.

Detractors say the schedule places unrealistic strain on parents to make it work.

The hybrid model in Stamford calls for children to attend classes in person every other day, meaning one week, a child is to be in class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, followed by a week when he or she attends class on Tuesday and Thursday.

On days when they are not in class, students in the hybrid model are to participate in distance learning.

Parents who have spoken out against the schedule — online, in letters and at virtual Board of Education meetings — say the change from week to week will be a hard fit with job demands.

“The hybrid model presented for the elementary schools is nearly impossible for any working household to follow,” parent Barrie Arth said at the Board of Education’s meeting last week.

The plan assumes one parent would stay at home to help with distance learning, she said.

“I feel that this discriminates against dual working households and it will affect women more than men in their job security,” she said.

Arth added, “This plan is truly either forcing me to quit or reduce my hours in order to accommodate such a schedule.”

Gina Calabrese, a Stamford mother who has asked the school board and administrators to change the plan, also said it will unduly burden mothers.

“Whenever a working mom has a demand to adjust her work schedule, she gets that feeling in the pit of her stomach about presenting this to her employer,” said Calabrese.

In online meetings with the community, Superintendent Tamu Lucero has urged parents to present the school’s planned calendar to their employer and childcare provider to work out a schedule.

But Calabrese said that’s an unreasonable ask for certain parents whose employment is already insecure.

“Those who still have jobs are working extra hard to show their value to their employers,” she said. “People don’t necessarily have negotiating power to demand that they be onsite every other day.”

Calabrese serves on the district’s reopening committee in the technology subcommittee, and while she praised Lucero for her work, she thinks the superintendent should have been more responsive to concerns of parents about the schedule.

Lucero was asked about that, by Calabrese, during a meeting of the Stamford Parent-Teacher Council last week.

“It is not my intent to have anyone have to leave their job,” Lucero said. “Our goal is to allow for students to come to school on a consistent basis and that’s why we elected this model. ... I think someone would have an issue with whatever model it is.”

She added, “We chose the one we felt was academically sound for our students to be in school every other day.”

Amy Beldotti, associate superintendent for teaching and learning, said student learning was the driving factor in coming up with the schedule. And she said the process of selecting the schedule was not imposed by the administration. In fact, it was chosen by three subcommittees independently.

More specifically, she said the teaching and learning subcommittees for the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels all came back with the same concept for an alternating schedule.

She said that while she is aware of the concerns from parents who oppose the schedule, she has also received positive messages from parents.

Beldotti said any option chosen would have been problematic for some parents.

“I acknowledge that there is no perfect schedule,” she said.

Under some static models, Beldotti said, students could be away from classroom instruction for five or six days at a time to accommodate holidays. That’s one of the biggest reasons the subcommittees chose the every-other-day model, to limit the gap between days inside classrooms.

Nicole Nieves is another Stamford parent who asked the Board of Education to reconsider.

“I know many people do not feel this is a manageable schedule,” she said, while adding that she supports the idea of a hybrid plan.

She has a first grader starting in the fall and a 10-month-old child.

Nieves said her employer and daycare both require set days each week.

“These businesses cannot be expected to accommodate each individual’s family schedule,” she said.

The district’s alternating schedule, however, is unlikely to change.

That’s because starting last week, parents have been sending in their final decisions on whether or not they will have their children attend classes in the hybrid model or keep them home to continue distance learning.

Beldotti said it would be unfair to change the schedule now, since parents are making the decision based on the calendar presented.

“I don’t think there is time to renew a schedule and put out a new survey,” she said. “We need to be moving forward at this point.”

So far, she said, about 80 percent of respondents have selected the hybrid model.

Jackie Pioli, one of two members of the Stamford Board of Education who also serve on the district’s reopening task force, said reaction to the schedule has been mixed.

She is a parent of two students and said she understands the concern from parents. But she said any schedule chosen would have detractors.

“No matter how we did that schedule it was going to affect working parents who need childcare,” she said.