'No more Zoom:' Fed up with distance learning, families rally for in-person education

Sonoma County families, fed-up with distance learning, rallied in Santa Rosa Thursday evening.

"No more Zoom, no more Zoom," they chanted, lining Old Courthouse Square downtown, eliciting honks of support from passing drivers. About 100 people took part: parents, students and teachers who are upset that the pandemic will keep everyone out of the classroom until 2021, regardless of the progress the county makes in its Covid-19 data.

"We really had to go for the science and what Department of Health and the state was telling us," noted Santa Rosa School Board President Laurie Fong, explaining the unanimous vote taken Wednesday to shelve any changes through December. 

Protestors, organized loosely on Facebook, argue the district could be more proactive. 

"We need to get these kids into the classroom.," said Jeannine Hextrum, owner of Bennett Valley Montessori, a Santa Rosa preschool.

"What started as a two-, three-week shutdown has turned into six months and these kids are really suffering."

Critics say Sonoma County, with about a half-million residents and 114 coronavirus deaths, is stable enough that in-person instruction should be offered, at least part-time. 

"Hybrid is a great way to start, half the kids go to school on Monday and Tuesday, then sanitize on Wednesday, and the other half go in Thursday and Friday," said parent Kim Schroeder.

Students of every age report difficulties with online learning.

"It's so hard to pay attention in class, teachers try to give us lectures and give us work," complained high school senior Peyton Vice.

"But if I get confused, I start online shopping sometimes, it's not ideal at all."

Vice said she spends 6 hours daily on a screen for classes, plus 3 more hours for homework.

She says many teenagers zone out, or fail to take the assignments seriously.

"From my experience, every student who is taking a test, they just text each other and ask them for the answers," said Vice.

Her mom says Peyton's sixth-grade brother is unhappy and frustrated too.

"Kids are depressed, they're anxious, they're falling behind, and somebody needs to be a voice for them," said Nicole Vice.

"Kids need to be with each other and they need to be with their teachers, this is not education."

School Board members, some parents of young children themselves, say they are sympathetic.

Before the vote, they heard an hour of public comment, about 30 comments, evenly split for and against their vote.

Fong calls the board's dilemma "agonizing", but says it had to stick with distance learning, under county and state guidelines.

"We are in the purple tier, so we would be remiss if we returned to school, we can't, it's an impossibility."

She expressed hope that a divided school community could come together.

"No one is an expert on this, it's all new for all of us, in nobody's lifetime have we faced this, so we have to walk through it together."

But the sign-waving protesters want to see classroom readiness for the day Sonoma County moves from purple to the more permissive red tier.

"I think they're taking a conservative approach to this," said parent Natalie Goodrich, "but I don't think that approach outweighs what it's doing to our kids emotionally."

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at debora.villalon@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU