Give Us the Chance to Choose: The DOE’s New Blended Learning Policy

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Issue 5, Volume 111

By Maya Dunayer 

Ever since NYC public schools closed on March 13, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Stuyvesant community have been struggling with a multitude of issues that have changed the nature of learning during this pandemic. From the DOE’s banning of Zoom due to security concerns to rethinking the grading system, our administration and the DOE have been working hard to provide students with the best learning experience possible. However, this fall, the administration has been faced with the challenge of giving those who choose to learn in person for a few days a week the same Stuyvesant learning experience. The Stuyvesant administration has met this challenge well, instituting new safety measures and procedures in order to keep students in the blended learning model safe and healthy. Despite all of that effort, however, the DOE has thrown a new curveball at our community by only allowing students to switch to the blended learning model during a two week window that closes November 15.

The original blended learning model was meant to have multiple points throughout the year when students could opt into blended learning, though a blended learning student could switch to remote whenever they so chose. This system created the perfect balance between giving the administration adequate time to place new blended learning students into cohorts and giving students the opportunity to choose the blended learning model whenever they felt safe enough to do so. The DOE’s new plan to only allow students to opt into blended learning during the first two weeks of November does not take into account the importance of such a decision and takes away much of the flexibility that the previous model offered.

Choosing to opt into the blended learning model is definitely not an easy decision. There are many factors that go into a student’s choice to make this switch. A student may have a difficult home life or a hard time focusing at home, making the school environment more conducive to learning. However, commute time, as well as safety of the student’s commute, are factors that may deter a student from opting in. The beauty of the previous system was that students did not have to make one choice for the entire school year. They could choose to stay home for a few months and potentially switch to a blended learning model once the COVID-19 situation improved. Nothing is certain in this new reality that we are living in, and no one knows how the next few months will go. It is possible that the COVID-19 situation will vastly improve, and more students will feel comfortable returning to the building. On the flipside, it is possible that we will be hit with a second wave of COVID-19, and many students will prefer to stay at home. Flexibility is essential in order to allow students to feel comfortable with their decisions, and allowing them to change their decision in a month or two is key to making students as comfortable as possible this school year. Under the DOE’s new policy, however, this flexibility is lost. To ask students to choose one model for the rest of this school year is simply inconsiderate of the gravity of this decision.

Though the DOE’s new plan is understandable, its costs ultimately outweigh its benefits. Under the DOE’s new plan, school administrators will not need to go through the process of adding students to cohorts when they opt into the blended model. As making programming changes and scheduling classes is a difficult and lengthy process, not having to do this process multiple times during the year might be easier on the administrative end. However, this increase in efficiency does not outweigh the added flexibility students gained under the old plan. A majority of the Stuyvesant population has chosen to stay remote, and assuming our current COVID-19 situation continues, it is unlikely that a large influx of students will want to switch to blended learning at any point in the school year. Having a few dates in the school year where students could switch, as was the previous plan, would allow administrators to add new students into cohorts without too much disruption. This slight inconvenience to the school administrators is largely outweighed by the increased flexibility and peace of mind that come with allowing students to switch.

It is clear that the DOE must revise their new plan in order to allow students to switch to remote learning at a few key points during the school year. This is a hard year for everyone, with many new and unexpected challenges. It is essential that the DOE accommodate students during this difficult time and allow us to have the freedom to choose. Through this change, the DOE will be able to give peace of mind to students who already have enough on their minds without having to choose a plan for the rest of their school year. In short, it is absolutely essential to revert to the old plan, and the DOE should make this change as soon as possible. In the meantime, however, students should adapt to the new model by choosing the blended model if they have any interest in returning to the school building this year. As you can always switch back to remote, giving yourself the option now is the best decision with the current DOE policy. Though it is a tough year for everyone, the DOE and the student body need to communicate and work together to find the best solution and give students the most flexibility possible.