Back in late spring, with the Island still deep in pandemic lockdown and remote learning omnipresent, Signe Benjamin made a promise to her daughter, an eight year old at the Tisbury School who used to bounce out of bed in the morning to go to class.

“She made me promise her that I would never make her do another Zoom,” Ms. Benjamin recalled last week. “So, I’m kind of in a weird situation now. Because I made that promise.”

Ms. Benjamin is not alone. Hundreds if not thousands of Island families with school-age children find themselves in similarly difficult circumstances, facing the onset of an unprecedented school year that appears likely to pick up where the last one left off: in front of a computer screen.

Under a plan approved late last week by the all-Island school committee, students in grades K through five will start the school year on Sept. 17 with remote learning, before slowly phasing back into classrooms for two days per week in a so-called hybrid learning model. Under the plan that went to the state Friday, middle school students will start the hybrid model on Oct. 27. Meanwhile, most students at the regional high school will remain in all-remote learning until Nov. 10 when they will return to classrooms.

In interviews with the Gazette last week as school leaders were poised to vote on the well-publicized reopening plans, working parents — many of whom are scrambling to figure out their own family work-school schedules with barely a month left before the start of school — expressed a litany of worries and frustrations. Some, including teachers with children, are fearful of sending their kids back to school and prefer a remote learning model. Others want their children back in classrooms, dreading another semester of remote learning and confident that safety protocols and Island coronavirus metrics make in-person learning both possible — and necessary.

And many others sit somewhere in between, a rock on one side and a hard place on the other.

Almost all are confused.

“We’ve really had very little guidance,” said Brian Ditchfield, a parent of kindergarten and second-graders at the Edgartown School. “It just feels like at this point we’re spinning wheels.”

A survey that went out to parents during the last two weeks of July found that 70 per cent of the 1,396 respondents were either likely or very likely to send their children back to school with proper safety protocols. Eight per cent said they were not likely to send their kids back to school. And nearly 20 per cent said more information was needed.

A second survey went out last week, asking parents for feedback on reopening plans and whether they plan to unenroll their children or seek a fully remote model. Results of that survey are not yet available.

The union that represents the teachers has advocated for remote learning to start the year, not wanting to put staff on the front lines of an outbreak without time to establish safety protocols.

But new metrics from the state have suggested that the Vineyard is in a low-risk zone, and that all students should begin the school year with in-person learning — contradicting the plan presented by school superintendent Matthew D’Andrea and voted by the all-Island committee last Thursday. Hanging in the balance are Island parents and students — their normal mid-August traditions of school supply shopping and classroom preparation transformed into webcam purchases and Wifi upgrades, as they wait for what the fall will bring.

Ms. Benjamin, who along with her daughter at the Tisbury School has a rising sophomore at the regional high school, said that while she greatly appreciated the steps teachers had taken to make the most of remote learning when it became the only option in March of last year, it didn’t compare to the experience of being in a classroom — for any of her children.

She advocated for prioritizing in-person learning this fall.

“Online learning just doesn’t cut it,” Ms. Benjamin said. “It’s not engaging at all and I just think it’s really challenging . . . we started rethinking the whole school thing altogether.”

School officials have acknowledged the problems in the spring when the pandemic forced a rushed, haphazard scramble to set up remote learning for Island students, vowing that remote learning this fall will be rigorous and look dramatically different from the spring.

But Ms. Benjamin is skeptical, feeling scarred by the experience last spring.

“I didn’t want [my daughter] to hate learning. But she just hated it,” she said. “You can’t compare going to school every day — being in your classroom with your peers — you can’t compare that kind of school with distant learning.”

A similar feeling was expressed by some parents who served on one of many reopening task forces appointed by Mr. D’Andrea. Celia Gillis, a mother of two high school students who joined the task force on July 20, wrote in a letter to the school committee that she thought the reopening plan was more conservative than necessary. Rebekah Thompson, who served as an up-Island representative on the task force and is a parent of three kids in Island schools, felt parents joined the task forces too late in the discussion to have a meaningful impact on decisions.

In a letter to the Gazette, Elizabeth Moriarty, a registered nurse and parent of three young school-aged children, advocated for in-person learning, criticizing the lack of hard metrics used in the plan presented by school administrators. She said she would consider “opting out” if the district decided to go with remote learning.

“Despite the tremendous efforts by our teachers, remote learning is simply ineffective for younger children,” Ms. Moriarty wrote. “And for most working parents, given our high cost of living, it’s a financial hardship to require them to stay at home to supervise or hire alternate child care.”

Remote and hybrid learning pose particular challenges for parents who work, especially those who don’t have the option of working from home and can’t afford the Island’s expensive and limited child care options.

Jen Demirs, who works as an ELL teacher at the Oak Bluffs School and has a daughter in third grade at the Tisbury School, described the difficulties from a teacher-parent perspective.

“I don’t think people understand what goes into remote learning,” Ms. Demirs said. “I worked every day from 9 a.m. until midnight. When I wasn’t with students I was planning or texting with them. If they sent a text during dinner, I would put down my fork and text them back, because when they engage, you have to be there, and praise them for engaging. You don’t know when you’ll get them again.”

Ms. Demirs said under the hybrid learning model, she would need to go to work in the school building five days a week. Her husband, a landscaper, would have to be home with her daughter the three days per week she’s not in school.

“[That] means he’ll have to work weekends,” Ms. Demirs said. “How can anybody pay a mortgage working two days a week?”

Despite the challenges of remote learning, many working parents are still uncomfortable with sending their kids back to school. Ms. Demirs said she would prefer a remote model to the hybrid option for safety reasons.

Mr. Ditchfield concurred.

“We’re not comfortable sending our kids back to school,” he said.

In response, Mr. Ditchfield and his wife, who is a teacher at the high school, have begun forming a pod, or a small cohort of similarly-aged kids from their neighborhood. Mr. Ditchfield said the pod encompassed different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Together, they plan to hire a tutor or teacher to guide their children through the school’s remote learning curriculum.

“People are scared. We keep hearing, this isn’t Texas. And we are doing well in Massachusetts. But we’re doing well because we’re not gathering in large groups indoors,” Mr. Ditchfield said. “If the school committee is having their meetings on Zoom, why are we asking teachers to go into the classroom?”

And while a growing group of parents voiced concerns with sending their children to indoor, often poorly ventilated classrooms, many felt that remote learning didn’t go far enough educationally, suggesting that school administrators seek more creative solutions, like outdoor learning or shared child care spaces.

Sam VanLandingham, a parent at the public charter school who manages a gardening crew, said she thought the school’s phased plan to bring kids back for in-person learning was appropriate. But as for the fall, she and her husband Erik, an electrician, remain undecided about what they will do: send their children back to school if given the choice, or stick with an all-remote option.

It’s the same predicament facing thousands of working parents across the Island.

“I’m trying to be open-minded. School is not going to be what it was, and it’s not a great situation for anyone,” Ms. VanLandingham said. “But I do feel like working parents are taking the hardest hit.”

Alexandra Bullen-Coutts contributed reporting.