When Virtual Schooling Turns Into Child Neglect.

The Boston Globe has an article concerning the troubling trend of working parents being reported to the state by teachers and education officials for “child neglect” if there are problems with so called “virtual schooling” at home.

Massachusetts school officials have reported dozens of families to state social workers for possible neglect charges because of issues related to their children’s participation in remote learning classes during the pandemic shutdown in the spring, according to interviews with parents, advocates, and reviews of documents.

In most cases, lawyers and family advocates said, the referrals were made solely because students failed to log into class repeatedly. Most of the parents reported were mothers, and several did not have any previous involvement with social services.

Can the parents report teachers and school officials for child neglect and abuse if the child is not learning or in a failing school? After all, turn about is fair play, right?

Among those parents is Em Quiles, who struggled to work her full-time job while overseeing her young son’s schooling. During remote class time, her 7-year-old was largely supervised by his teenage brother, who had his own school work to do.
Related: With schools and daycares closed, it’s sometimes older siblings who are watching young children

Quiles said she told staff at Heard Street Discovery Academy in Worcester in the spring that her work schedule made it tough to assist with virtual schooling and she struggled to navigate the school’s online platforms. “They didn’t offer any help,” she said.

Then in June, Quiles was stunned to receive a call from the state’s Department of Children and Families. The school had accused Quiles of neglect, she was told, because the 7-year-old missed class and homework assignments.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Quiles lived one of the worst nightmares for a parent: A neglect charge, if substantiated, can lead to removing a child from their home. It came during a period of unprecedented educational disruption, in which parents, students, and schools all struggled with ad-hoc routines that challenged even the most engaged, but would result in some being singled out for how their children responded.

Clearly this parent is engaged with the school and her child, but when she was struggling with the online system itself, she was told “you’re on your own.”

Most of the districts that referred families to DCF for remote learning problems have long — and sometimes controversial — policies of reporting parents for their children’s truancy prior to COVID as well.

Yet lawyers including Gregory said the aggressive approach was particularly inappropriate during a pandemic when families of all backgrounds frequently struggled to help their children engage in remote learning. During the spring, only 36 percent of parents who were surveyed statewide said their children participated in daily online classes.

Rather than “building bridges and building relationships” with the most vulnerable families, some schools defaulted to “punitive measures,” Gregory said. “There were so many kids with disabilities, language barriers … who were having trouble engaging in remote learning. You shouldn’t infer anything about a parent, simply because a child’s not showing up on Zoom.”

Then there are people being reported for the failure of the school systems themselves:

In Lynn, for example, two parents who were reported to DCF for their children’s absence from online learning did not receive information about getting laptops and Internet access because they don’t use Facebook and e-mail, according to Dalene Basden, a family support specialist with the Parent/Professional Advocacy League. (Lynn’s superintendent did not respond to requests for comment.)

And in Worcester, school officials took months to distribute Chromebook computers after schools closed down, according to several families and school board members.

Indeed, several cities took the state guidance very seriously. In a note outlining their responsibilities during the spring remote learning period, Worcester school officials reminded teachers of their roles as “mandatory reporters” to DCF. That list of expectations included little about their role ensuring students continued their learning during the pandemic.

This is a tough time for all and the last things that parents need is schools reporting them to state officials rather than working with the parents.

Massachusetts districts, schools and teachers are being short sighted and making enemies in the community for no good reason.

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