School online learning program rejected over parent backlash

Parents are raising concerns over a new curriculum in Cheshire (WFSB)

New curriculum supported by Facebook is causing controversy in one Connecticut town.

Cheshire is the first in the state to adopt the "Summit Learning Platform," developed by Summit Public Schools and it's getting some backlash.

The eyes of the state are on Cheshire as this type of learning spreads throughout the country. Summit is a nonprofit charter management and school partnership organization that operates 11 schools in California and Washington and supports more than 330 schools in 40 states, including Cheshire.

However, some parents in Cheshire are upset about nearly every aspect of this program. They say teachers' roles are diminished, while putting their children in front of computers for too long. Eyewitness News spoke with parents who said they are also concerned about their and their children's privacy, and say the curriculum is too hard.

“Kids who are like 11 years old are being parked in front of computers and being asked to teach themselves,” said Heidi Wildstein, of Cheshire.

Wildstein's son attends Doolittle School in Cheshire and he used to like going, but she said now her sixth-grader dreads it.

“They're nervous and scared about failing another assessment. These are kids, who previously, have been very successful in school,” Wildstein said.

She said it’s because of the new curriculum rolled out this year, which is near and dear to the heart of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

When he announced he would donate a huge chunk of Facebook shares to charity, this endeavor was one of the recipients. According to Summit, they initially partnered with Facebook to refine and improve the platform. Summit now has a partnership with the "Chan Zuckerberg Initiative," which provides engineering support for the platform.

In Cheshire, students from fifth through seventh grades are using the programs in subjects like math, science, and social studies.

Assistant Superintendent Shawn Parkhurst explained at a Board of Education meeting on Thursday evening how it's different from a traditional classroom.

"In a traditional classroom, learning starts and ends at a certain time. Time becomes the variable in this component. Different students are able to have support or enrichment along that can continue throughout the year," Parkhurst said.

Wildstein says children simply aren't adjusting well.

“They're not feeling like it's a positive learning environment, it's becoming a negative learning environment,” Wildstein said.

She said she is not the only one who feels this way.

Hundreds of Cheshire parents have signed a petition asking the district to suspend Summit and dozens turned out tonight to make that appeal in person.

Officials promise to address concerns and continue to work with teachers to get them familiar with the software, but right now, they say Summit isn't going anywhere.

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