Lack of student support during the pandemic pushes Dover family to pursue school choice
Frustration over the Maine Department of Education’s COVID-19 quarantine protocols and pooled testing procedures have contributed to Michelle Poole’s desire to send her son to a school in a town other than the one in which she resides.
Michelle Poole’s son is 16-years-old and a junior at Foxcroft Academy in Dover. He plays soccer and attends a vocational school in Bangor. Poole, who lives in Dover, says that if she had a choice, she would send her son to school in Bangor.
The Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) guidance for the start of the current school year exempts students who participate in pooled testing from quarantining if they’re exposed to COVID-19 in several situations.
Even if they’re unvaccinated, students enrolled in pooled testing can remain in school and participate in school-related activities, like sports, if they are found to be a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and test negative.
The ability to continue participating in school activities is one of the reasons Poole chose to enroll her son in pooled testing.
While her son wasn’t initially enrolled in the pooled testing program, Poole made the decision to enroll her son after one of his soccer teammates tested positive for COVID-19. Because her son was ruled a close contact, he had to quarantine for two weeks.
In an attempt to allow him to return to the classroom before the end of his quarantine period, Poole tried to obtain a negative test result from her son’s doctor but was told the school’s policy would not allow that.
While in quarantine, Poole’s son could participate in schooling remotely. But Poole said her son had no drive to log onto the online resources.
“Just those two weeks of him not being able to go to school, he fell behind instantly,” Poole said.
Aside from missing out on schooling, Poole says she was told her son couldn’t participate in hands-on activities at his vocational school program in Bangor if he wasn’t enrolled in pooled testing.
But after Poole made the decision to enroll her son, she had difficulty getting him into the program. Foxcroft Academy conducts testing on Monday mornings when Poole’s son is in Bangor for his vocational program.
“He was given the option at the end of his road in the morning to get tested by one of the bus drivers. He’s part of the bus pool testing,” said Poole.
According to Poole, the drivers are included in testing so that if a student tests positive and rides the bus, they do not have to quarantine.
But the two weeks Poole’s son spent at home in quarantine weren’t the only time he struggled with remote learning.
Like many other students in the state, Poole’s son spent some of the 2019-2020 school year learning remotely.
Poole described her son as falling from an A and B student to a B, C, and D student because of remote learning.
According to Poole, her son’s remote learning experience involved no set lessons and no set class times.
“Their form of teaching was him watching YouTube videos from years ago and trying to do chemistry. And then taking those formulas he’s given by his teacher,” said Poole.
Additionally, Poole says there was no structure to her son’s learning and his grades were frequently not posted on a weekly basis as they were supposed to be.
“He didn’t have to be at home at any certain time. Didn’t have to check in. No Zoom calls. [Teachers] say they had it a lot harder and I’m not downplaying that, but I would have thought it would have been easier to just do a Zoom meeting,” Poole said.
Poole’s son also failed chemistry. According to Poole, during remote learning, her son and his friends met to do their school work together and were accused of plagiarizing.
“One of the problems I had with them failing him for plagiarizing, in my line of work, we all get together and talk about possible solutions,” said Poole, who works for the water department. Given the lack of support from teachers, it seemed necessary to consult with peers to better grasp the material they were supposed to learn.
Poole’s son got into trouble at home, as well as at school, over his grades. Poole says her son frequently wouldn’t speak up about the trouble he was having. She would make him reach out to his teachers, or draft the emails for him.
She would also reach out to her son’s teachers when she was unhappy. But she said she received no help. The teachers “always had an excuse,” Poole said, which led to her and her daughter trying to help her son academically.
Because of her struggles with remote learning, quarantine policies and access to additional help and resources for her son, Poole says, given the choice, he wouldn’t be at Foxcroft Academy.
“If there were school choice, he’d be in Bangor.” said Poole.
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