DARIEN — The class sizes at one of the town’s elementary schools and the last-minute decision to pull the plug on livestreaming for younger students are among the chief frustrations for many parents who continue to push for more in-person instruction.

Parent Taylor Carter has organized a letter signed by 190 parents that was sent Thursday to Superintendent Alan Addley, the Board of Education, the Council of Darien School Parents and other school leaders.

Carter said the parents “do not believe kindergarten, first and second grade children are receiving an adequate education under the hybrid model.”

“We believe that three days a week of: a) no new learning b) a slide deck delivery model and c) no in-person instruction does not meet the educational standards Darien should be held to. Further, we do not believe remote learning, live-streamed or not, is the best method for teaching these young students,” Carter wrote in the letter.

The letter also requested that all children in grades K-2 be offered in-person, on-site learning, five days a week.

Carter was among the parents who expressed frustration during the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night about the first days of the new school year.

“My second-grader has received nothing more than a slide deck for her ‘education’ since early March. That is to say, zero live instruction, zero teaching in six months. That is an absolute failure of the Darien Public Schools,” said Carter, a member of the Board of Finance who pointed out she was speaking as a parent and not as a town official.

Carter said she was shocked “to see that major educational decisions like this continue to be made without any input from the Board of Education. I have heard from several of you it’s because you’ve been told you have no authority over operations.”

“You have failed me. Instead of setting policy and educational expectations, you have blindly supported the administration and washed your hands of any responsibility,” she said.

Greg Grambling agreed, saying his child’s remote lesson was completed in “20 minutes” and that elementary schools are back to where they were in March.

Grambling, who initiated a petition over the summer to ask for full-time in-person learning for Darien students, also noted that the Board of Education did not have a vote or a say in the decision to set the hybrid plan or any changes to that plan. He added that 84 percent of parents indicated they wanted full, in-person learning when responding to the Board of Education’s survey.

The decision to delay using livestreaming for K-2 students who were learning from home further frustrated parents about the hybrid model.

An email was sent late last week to the parents of kindergartners through second-graders, saying livestreaming would be delayed for these classes due to technical issues.

Addley said launching the livestreaming “without students being fully prepared will only contribute to students’ anxiety.”

Livestreaming for K-2 students is now scheduled to begin on Monday. While at home, students have been participating by accessing remote learning lessons.

Addley told Hearst Connecticut Media that he delayed the livestreaming after seeing some of the technical issues that were happening in the classrooms.

During the BOE meeting, Addley also pointed out “hiccups” with technology due to Chromebooks for kindergartners arriving late and some program platforms that weren’t working.

Addley said he spent time with teachers and felt the online learning needed to be further developed to avoid causing more frustration for parents and students.

Ox Ridge fourth grade

Parents have also raised concerns about in-person learning at Ox Ridge Elementary School, where one of the fourth-grade sections has been eliminated.

Beth Morgan said she and other parents are worried about the effect larger class sizes will have on their children.

Morgan said although Ox Ridge has the space to accommodate larger class sizes, it doesn’t address the impact on the children’s learning.

Jennifer Sherman pointed out that in order to accommodate the class sizes, her twins were moved to portable classrooms, ones the parents have been asking to have removed for years. She questioned the safety and weather impact of using portables.

“How will this be monitored? What happens if we hit 26 or more?” she asked.

Julie Dupont said other elementary schools added sections, keeping their classes below 20 students.

“I have not received an answer from Alan Addley or the Board of Ed as to why the decision to treat different elementary schools in Darien differently. As a taxpayer, I demand it,” she said.

Christa Struk noted that students who “received virtually no learning” are now impacted by Ox Ridge’s large fourth-grade classes.

According to the district’s policy, the optimal class size for fourth and fifth grades is 21 to 23 students within a range of 20 to 24.

In an email obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Hindley, Royle and Tokeneke elementary schools each have four sections of fourth grade. There are 85 fourth-grade students at Hindley, 56 at Royle and 78 at Tokeneke. Holmes School has five sections for 90 students. Ox Ridge has three sections for 72 fourth-graders.

During his superintendent report, Addley responded to the Ox Ridge concerns, saying the school was budgeted for three sections.

“We held off setting the section number as long as we could,” he said.

Addley also noted that the portable classrooms were not the desired location, but he attested to their safety and security. He pointed out that the three sections were broken down to 25, 24 and 23 students. He noted that 24 was in the upper realm of the board’s class-size policy, saying 16 students were added to the Ox Ridge enrollment.

In some cases, Addley said other schools’ enrollment did not play out to the projections. He also said the size of the actual classrooms in other schools determined the amount of students for each grade.

“There were a lot of contributing factors” to the varying sizes at the elementary schools, he said.

For the 25-student class, that is “essentially a double classroom,” which has “just as much or more” space for COVID-19 precautions than the other classrooms, Addley added.

Addley said the district will continue to monitor the class size at Ox Ridge.

Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman clarified that when the class sizes were set for Ox Ridge, it was within the guidelines of 24 students.

“We don’t typically break sections and add a full section for one student tip-over. We do usually add a paraeducator or a teacher to aid the full-time teacher,” she said.

Board responds to criticism

Board member John Sini said it was important to explain the role of the school board to the public.

“This isn’t second-guessing the administration, but there might be a better way to work collaboratively with the community and the administration,” Sini said.

“I think we can do a better job of working hand and glove with the administration,” he said.

Sini pointed out that the board learned about the hybrid model when the community was notified, and was told about the livestreaming being delayed for K-2 a few hours before it was announced. He also said the board could provide some “air cover” for the administration’s decision.

Board member Mike Burke said he rejects any comment that suggests the board abdicated its responsibility.

“The decision to open in the hybrid environment was properly placed with the superintendent,” he said.

“I do think in an extraordinary time, there are always opportunities to learn and it is worthwhile to self reflect and move forward from this point,” board member Jill McCammon said.

McCammon also pointed out that she thought the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education indicated the board should vote on a reopening plan.

“What I would remind everyone is the nine people working up here are working very hard,” she said.

In response to people calling for board members to step down, Ochman said opening schools is like “opening a small country.”

“If you don’t like the way people are doing this, every three years you do have the opportunity to participate,” she said.

Ochman reminded the public that “we are in a global pandemic. This has never been done before.”

The next Board of Education meeting is at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.