DOE Implements New Policy for Opting Into Blended Learning

Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education Richard Carranza announced that the period from November 2 to 15 would be the only opportunity for families to opt into blended learning for the 2020 to 2021 school year.

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The New York City Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on October 26 that the period from November 2 to 15 would be the only opportunity for families to opt into blended learning for the 2020 to 2021 school year. This announcement follows the DOE’s initial statement that families may opt into blended learning quarterly at predetermined times during the school year, the first of which being in November.

The decision was made to allow more time for schools to prepare for the number of blended students that would be in school throughout the year beforehand. According to a tweet from Carranza’s Twitter page on October 26, “[it] is a change to our original approach, based on two important lessons learned: we need to give families more time to be aware of the chance to change their preference, and it can take time for schools to program their students and staff, and we want to make sure they have it.”

Currently, students who are in blended learning are split into pods and come into school on their designated pod’s days. Students work in assigned areas around the school, such as the theater or the gym, and receive the same remote instruction from their teachers as their remote peers. Despite the change in the opt-in period, Stuyvesant’s exception model will stay the same. “We never intended on changing programming based on numbers of blended learners because our exception model was based on fully remote instruction for the length of circumstances surrounding the need for cohort-based attendance at school,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview.

As students choose to opt into blended learning, the administration will have to prepare accordingly for the number of students that will be in the building on a given day. “[Principal Seung] Yu and the administration must base the number of days offered for blended learners to come to the building and the number of pods on our number of blended learners,” Ingram said. “If blended learners do not come in on the days they are assigned, there will be more spaces open than necessary, more faculty supervising than necessary, and less interaction afforded to our students.”

The administration, however, felt that the new policy was abrupt, as they had originally planned for quarterly opt-in periods. “It definitely has its issues because [we are] trying to keep track of students who are choosing blended versus remote and then again, trying to configure our space,” Yu said. “We had originally [gone] with the plan that this was going to be done on a quarterly basis. A lot of it was also contingent upon us getting information about when those would happen and when the window would happen and then when they would get started again. So I think if anything, I just want a decision to be made so that we can then plan accordingly as opposed to constant shifts.”

Many students were frustrated by the change as they had hoped to switch to blended learning during the original quarterly periods throughout the year. “I don’t agree with the new decision regarding blended learning, for people like me who hoped to switch back when things started to normalize, it was pretty discouraging knowing that this is the one and only chance,” sophomore Isabella Chow said in an e-mail interview.

Senior Raisa Amin added in an e-mail interview, “I decided on remote learning for the fall because it was the safest option for me and my family, as there is less risk of infection with decreased travel and interaction with others. But if there's a vaccine, or it becomes safer, I would [have] consider[ed] switching next semester, since it is my last year here, and I'm still hoping we have a chance to do some senior activities/traditions in-person.”

Others were confused by why the change was made. “The new decision regarding blended learning sort of confuses me. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to opt in and out of blended learning outside of that small window of time,” sophomore Lara Ongan said in an e-mail interview.

Amin echoed that sentiment. “There’s just been so much change, and I think the DOE is trying to lessen the amount of change we experience and create a set plan for the rest of the school year,” she said. “[B]ut with this situation, we can’t really predict what will happen, and it’s hard to be prepared for an ever- changing situation.

Many also felt frustrated by the change and its effect on not only Stuyvesant, but on public schools across New York City. “I find this especially concerning for the elementary and middle school students who might really need blended learning to succeed but whose families just aren't comfortable enrolling them in it now. Above all, I'm once again disappointed by the lack of communication and advance notice on the part of the DOE,” senior Julian Giordano said.

In addition, the administration felt that the DOE had provided little opportunity for schools to provide their input regarding the change. “I think it's important to hear from the field and for those working in the schools to see what may or may not be working and […] or what are the issues that are being presented so that we could have some input […] particularly when decisions are being changed fairly, fairly quickly,” Yu said. “[It’s] asking schools to have to make adjustments as quickly as they can while also communicating it out, because, again, it's hard for schools to communicate out [the] rationale for why these windows are changing or any of the other decisions, particularly if we haven't been apart of providing any input in that.”

Nonetheless, the administration is continuing to adapt to the changes and support its students and families. “Our goal at the school is to provide the best experience we think possible for all our students, regardless of if students are in the building or at home. We just want to be as upfront about what we can and can't do, as well as understanding that there are limitations,” Yu said. “We have to continue to evolve, particularly under the circumstances, and I hope, and I know that the school community recognizes that, but we are doing the very best we can to make sure that this is a positive experience.”