Cheshire schools suspend use of online education platform

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CHESHIRE — School Superintendent Jeff Solan will suspend an online learning platform later this week after it was criticized by many parents.

 Solan sent a letter to parents saying the pilot program for Summit Learning would end Dec. 22.

The program’s future is unclear, although school board members said they felt portions of the platform were beneficial. Board chairwoman Cathy Hellreich said it’ll be discussed after the holiday break.

Parents had a host of criticisms, including increased screen time for students, inappropriate content linked from the site, and privacy concerns based on funding by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Summit was being used by fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade students.

Solan cited “issues with the content” and “a substantial degree of misunderstanding and misinformation within the community,” for the program’s suspension. The rest of the week will allow students to finish projects and teachers to transition from Summit.

He also cancelled an upcoming meeting with parents to discuss Summit.

The suspension didn’t reflect on the teachers who worked with students over the past few months.

“Everyone who works in our schools is dedicated to providing our students a meaningful and powerful education,” Solan said in an email to parents. “The members of the Board of Education and I know that we will collectively as a school system and a community, come through this experience and be stronger than we were.”

An online petition to suspend Summit had 460 signatures as of Monday.

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.

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.

At a Dec. 8 meeting, board members defended the use of Summit, saying it was highly recommended by school staff.

Hellreich said the projects students created, teacher mentoring, and goal-setting were worth keeping. 

“There are parts of this that I’d love to see continue,” she said.

Although the parents opposed to Summit were the most vocal and attended meetings, Hellreich said there was another group of parents that were pleased with the learning platform.

The suspension wasn’t the board’s decision, according to Hellreich.

“We’ve got a lot of seasoned well respected educators in our schools that thought this was good for kids, but I realize that there were certain issues with it too,” she said. “It was probably the prudent decision at this time.”

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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