CHESHIRE – Parents opposed to a new online learning platform filled the seats at a Board of Education meeting Thursday night and voiced their objections. Board members defended the Summit Learning Platform, saying it’s supported by teachers and principals who recommended it.
The system is in place as a pilot program with 5th, 6th and 7th grade students.
A police officer was present at the meeting. At a recent school board committee meeting, a board member reported receiving threats.
Parents have a host of concerns about Summit, such as the security of their children's personal information, increased time looking at computer screens while in school, and new assessments.
With the Summit platform, a portion of students' time is dedicated to self-directed learning through online videos, articles, and other material. To continue in the platform, students must pass assessments, answering at least eight of 10 questions correctly. The tests may be taken multiple times.
An online petition to suspend the program has more than 300 signatures.
Board member Anne Harrigan said a student, teacher and parent survey on Summit is under development. She said teachers have received training in response to parents’ concerns.
Neeta Vatti, a board member, said no decision has been made on whether the district will continue to use Summit. She relies on recommendations from education experts.
“Summit is something that the school principals and the teachers really felt strongly about. They think this is a fabulous program,” Vatti said. “They are educators, they have the experience that I don’t have. I really rely on them when they tell me it’s a good thing.”
Summit has shown benefits that the public hasn’t yet realized, she said. Vatti urged everyone to fill out the upcoming surveys honestly.
During a technology presentation unrelated to Summit, some parents asked about dating and other ads that appeared while their children were using the learning platform at home.
School officials said the ads weren’t part of Summit and were based on the machine’s browsing history. Over the weekend, school officials added an extension to the web browser used for Summit that includes an ad blocker. One parent told board members that had been effective.
Summit's funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative caused some parents to worry about the privacy of their students' data in light of Facebook's use of online information. School officials said its agreement with Summit conforms with state and federal laws governing student privacy. Parents contested that.
The new school board also re-elected Cathy Hellreich, a Democrat, as chairwoman Thursday night. Democrat Kathryn Fabiani was elected vice chairwoman to replace former vice chairwoman Marlena Soble. Republican Anthony Perugini was reelected secretary.
Republican Adam Grippo joined the board in November’s election. Fabiani and Perugini were re-elected. Voters could choose three board of education members for three open seats.