As hybrid model begins, many questions remain

As students begin returning to in-person instruction on February 22, numerous questions and concerns still remain. Many teachers are not returning to school with their students, but exactly which teachers won’t be back hasn’t been consistently communicated, failing to allow the most informed decision to be made by families. Further, requiring students who are hybrid to remain at school with teachers who are teaching virtually –– with a supervisor present –– leads to increased risk with little or no educational benefit. Increased socialization between peers, outside or inside school, will pose a variety of challenges in trying to keep the community as safe as possible. 

We understand that not all teachers feel comfortable returning to teaching in-person, and we respect their decisions. However, more communication would be greatly appreciated. As this is being written –– a week and a half before hybrid learning is set to start –– many of us still do not know whether some of our teachers will be remaining virtual or in-person. We realize that allowing students to pick and choose when to leave campus presents administrative difficulties and would complicate the contact tracing process. But having to move students into overflow areas such as the auditorium and pool lobby will also complicate the contact tracing process, as there are no seating charts in those areas. For classes where the teacher has announced they will be remaining completely virtual, we believe that students should not be required to attend school in-person. Further, if it was necessary to have an all or nothing policy, students should have at least been informed about which of their teachers were returning when making the decision as this is essential to the quality of hybrid education. 

The administration is sending mixed messages. They want us to leave campus whenever possible, like at lunch, to minimize the risk of COVID exposure, but they are also requiring us to be in-person even for classes where our teacher will continue to teach remotely.

The administration is sending mixed messages. They want us to leave campus whenever possible, like at lunch, to minimize the risk of COVID exposure, but they are also requiring us to be in-person even for classes where our teacher will continue to teach remotely. We question the judgement of the latter. The argument of “socialization” has been referenced in this decision, but we’re not sure if ten kids sitting in a room watching ten individual screens, or even one shared screen, constitutes socialization. Beyond distracted side-conversations and jokes that only in-person students are privy to, what other forms of socialization can be expected? 

From an educational perspective, it makes no difference whether we are sitting in our bedrooms watching our teacher on our computer screen or sitting at desks watching them on the projector. So why bother hiring supervising teachers for the sole purpose of monitoring a classroom? We realize that not all students can, or will want to, leave campus for an hour where their teacher is online. Having spaces for students to work while during a free period is a must, as is allowing them to stay on campus even if their teacher is virtual. While these spaces should be used when necessary, they shouldn’t be encouraged because it is still possible exposure. But requiring students to remain on campus for classes where their teacher has opted to stay virtual while simultaneously asking students to leave campus for lunch or when a substitute isn’t available seems contradictory. If it is a goal to minimize the amount of time spent on campus, and the quality of education will not increase when a teacher is virtual, students only increase their risk of contracting COVID.

With the responsibilities that the administration is facing to maintain safety in school, the responsibilities also fall upon the students. We worry that students will take this development as an invitation to increase socialization and widen their contact circles. In-person school creates a slippery slope into carpooling, going out to lunch as a large group, walking home together and hanging out after school. Social distancing guidelines will be followed as best as is practicable while on campus, and that should continue outside of school as well. We hope students avoid taking this situation as an incentive to increase the size of their “bubble” of friends they already see. The threat of the virus still exists. Just because we are returning to school does not mean that we should be desensitized to the dangers of high-risk activities. Life is not returning to normal just because you may be in school two days a week, nor will it for an extended period of time. The faster transmission rate of new COVID strains have already caused mass shutdowns in the other parts of the world, and have the potential to do the same here. The reopening of schools and vaccine rollouts are positive developments, but with less than 10% of Americans vaccinated we shouldn’t let our guard down.  

Statistics show COVID won’t be over anytime soon. That’s why we think it’s so important to voice our concerns and support a dialogue in the district about potential problems we will face in transitioning to a hybrid model. Ensuring the best educational experience, while remaining as safe as possible, should remain a priority for everyone.