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More critical now than ever for schools to build connections with families

Thank you for Bianca Vázquez Toness’s article “Parents accused of neglect over virtual truancy” (Page A1, Aug. 16), which describes the troubling practice of school districts contacting the state Department of Children and Families to claim neglect on the part of parents whose children are not attending online classes. Many of these referrals are happening in districts serving large numbers of families of color.

As a parent, I shudder at the thought of receiving such a call. Schools must contact state authorities when there is real evidence of neglect, but the article suggests that that may not be what is happening in some of these cases. Might closer connections with families be a better path than state referrals?

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Schools and teachers are overwhelmed with demands, but genuine family engagement is more critical now than ever. Schools deeply engaged with families have a better chance to understand why students are not participating in online work and to identify solutions other than contacting DCF. This is happening in many places, but not everywhere.

Tens of thousands of students across the Commonwealth face another season of remote classes. Some will do fine while others struggle and fall further behind. Let’s support schools to create real connections with vulnerable families and find workable solutions to the challenges they face.

Kevin Murray

Executive director

Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Boston


The pandemic continues to expose fault lines over race and class that were largely hidden from public view just six months ago. There are many instances when it makes sense for school officials to file a 51A report alleging child abuse or neglect if they have students who aren’t gaining access to education because of circumstances at home. But frivolous pandemic-related reports of abuse expose the ways in which schools fall prey to implicit bias.

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Now, more than ever, it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions. When thinking about how to engage a student who isn’t checking in online, consider the conditions that might be getting in the way. Lack of Wi-Fi or smartphones? A broken computer? One device that has to be shared by an entire family? Parents with jobs that require them to be outside of the home, thereby leaving no adult present to coax a reluctant teenager to log into Google Classroom?

It has been challenging for co-workers to remain connected virtually. No one should be surprised that many students are finding it hard to stay connected with their schools.

If we learn nothing else from this pandemic, let it be that we gain more through empathy and making connections than we do by judging children and families who may be struggling.

Shaheer Mustafa

President and CEO

HopeWell Inc.

Dedham

HopeWell provides foster care services for children, youth, and adults.


Children need to get back to classrooms, for education and support

The front-page article ”Parents accused of neglect over virtual truancy” by Bianca Vázquez Toness makes a great case for fully opened schools. The wealthy families will always find a way to educate their children, while the poor need to struggle to do the best they can for their children.

I have been a volunteer as a representative of the community at the state Department of Children and Families for more than 20 years, and I know very well the struggles of families.

As a retired teacher and a trained psychologist, I also understand the needs of children and families, and I believe it is absolutely necessary to return children to an environment of support, for safety as well as education.

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Families are struggling; children need to be observed in person. Support services can be implemented as needed at school or referred by the nurse.

Barbara Badstubner

Groton