Parents should be given the choice of whether their children learn from home or at schools, a small group of protesters said Friday afternoon outside the Spokane Regional Health District offices.
With signs, speeches and letters, they also shared their frustration with decisions by Spokane County’s two largest school districts to begin the year with distance learning only – as well as the health district’s recommendations to follow that course.
Most of the protesters have children in Spokane Public Schools or the Central Valley School District, both of which decided last week to begin the academic year with students learning from home.
All wore masks and acknowledged the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said it didn’t justify closing schools.
For Spokane and Central Valley, that happened in the wake of health officer Dr. Bob Lutz’s strong recommendation to move to distance learning unless the county had fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week period.
As of Friday, Spokane County’s incidence rate is 201 cases per 100,000.
The protesters also reiterated other concerns: Students learn better at school, high-needs children will suffer without face-to-race instruction and many incidents of child abuse will go unreported without in-person attention.
The group’s leader, Denay Hornberger, said she was “devastated and heartbroken” when she got the news on Aug. 3 that her two young sons – one of whom has attention-deficit disorder – would not be going back to their elementary school in the Central Valley district.
A real estate agent who works on commission, Hornberger said she “cried a few tears” when her family was thrust into distance learning last spring.
She also heard from many parents who want to decide for themselves how their children should learn.
Hornberger said it was particularly frustrating that several neighboring districts – East Valley, Coeur d’Alene and Mead – have opted for a hybrid model that will allow children back in school.
Many brought to the protest signs that proclaimed “Open Spokane Schools,” “Give Parents Choice” and “Children Over Fear.”
“We just want a choice,” Hornberger said to cheers from a group of 30 parents and children.
“If you want to teach your children from home, we support you,” Hornberger said. “We’re also asking you to support us.”
Also in the audience was Katey Treloar, who last fall narrowly lost her race for a seat on the Spokane Public Schools board.
“Now we have four school board members that don’t have school-age children and don’t have experience in education,” Treloar said. “But now they are making decisions that are going to affect not just this year but for the next decade.”
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