By Tom Tolen /

At the Jan. 10th Brighton Board of Education meeting, a couple of parents complained that their children “hate”, as one parent put it, the learning pods that are being used in lower grade classrooms as a method to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The pods are utilized at all four elementary schools and at Maltby Intermediate School from pre-school through sixth grade. The pods, according to Supt. Matthew Outlaw, typically involve 2-4 children seated at desks or tables.

The complaining parents were Jennifer Smith and Nicole Cullers. Both are anti-mask advocates, who have filed lawsuits against several members of the BAS Board of Education, alleging they have been in violation of the Open Meetings Act by convening the Health, HR and Policy Committee without making it available to the public. Board President Roger Myers, who was named in the suits, called them “baseless” and predicted they would be dismissed.

Cullers told the board her daughter, a kindergartner, in her words, "fights me every single morning because she hates her pod.” She concluded by saying, again, her words, "We need to get a reality check and think of what we’re doing to these kids.” Smith, who has been a regular critic at board meetings, told board members that the pods are “harmful,” adding that they are “damaging our kids with their emotional growth. They’re stuck with the same 4-6 kids all of the school day: break, lunch, library, gym class.” Smith told the board that, as a result of the pods, she's considering enrolling her child in another district.

Superintendent Outlaw responded that for the practice of using pods to work, it needs to be in place during the entire class day, "to reduce the number of potential close contacts,” as he told WHMI. Nonetheless, Outlaw says he sympathizes with people like Smith and Cullers and any other parents who may be experiencing a similar reaction from their children. "Their concerns are valid and podding will not be used beyond what the current situation necessitates,” he said. “Student-to-student connections are so important, but we needed these tighter protocols in the short run to help address the high prevalence of cases in the state since November.”

Outlaw says there is no particular method used to determine how the students are grouped in the pods, a decision which is left up to the individual teacher. "Teachers assign the students within the pods based on their professional judgement,” he says.

Outlaw adds that the pods are nothing new, and were used extensively last year when students were in a classroom setting rather than engaged in virtual learning. More recently, the superintendent says Brighton re-introduced the pods last November after starting to see more transmission connected to the Delta variant.

It was announced last week that due to high case rates and increasing absences by both students and teachers, Scranton Middle School would switch to online learning through January 28th.

Outlaw concedes that in a perfect world, using pods would not be ideal in the classroom setting. But he maintains the school district has little choice but to employ them as an interim measure until the COVID figures are significantly reduced. And he assures parents that the district will stop using the pods "as soon as it’s not necessary.”

Photo: Example of pods used in some Brighton Area Schools classrooms.