Why Teachers Support Fully Remote Learning
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By Samantha Daves, UFT Chapter Leader with the support and signatures of 127 teachers and 24 non-pedagogical staff members at Stuyvesant High School
This is a simple letter making a simple point: blended learning is no good for Stuyvesant High School. Many parents and students have the belief that blended offers some sort of attractive halfway point between the danger of full reopening and the stripped-down experience of remote instruction. Unfortunately, the blended model is the worst of all worlds—not only exposing the community to risk, but also discarding the unique programming characteristics of our school. There are four reasons why the blended model is the worst choice:
The blended model has staff in school full time, which obviously jeopardizes the health of the staff and students—a major factor that cannot be discounted. Many teachers and staff will get medical accommodation, which will dramatically reduce the total number of staff in the school, so the stripped-down version of learning offered by the blended model will be stripped-down further due to a dearth of available personnel. It is worth noting that the need to hire substitutes to fully staff the blended model would most likely cost $1 million—and all this money would come out of the school budget. And since our students will be commuting from all over the city, they will be placing themselves in jeopardy by taking mass transportation—and of course, there is a risk that they could spread the virus to someone they love at home.
2. DAMAGE TO THE PROGRAM
Our school is special because of the great number of courses and electives and APs that it offers. We go beyond BC Calculus, and we offer any number of coding classes, Japanese classes, New York City history class, human disease classes, etc. Due to the nature of breaking the students into four cohorts, and student pod groups within the cohorts, there is simply no way to neither put these electives in the program, nor easily accommodate students repeating courses or taking them out of sequence. This means a hollowed-out experience for all of our students. The high-level and interesting classes that students spend years waiting to experience would be gone for at least the term and possibly the academic year.
3. NOT TRUE SOCIALIZATION
Parents and students want a world where students can socialize and mingle, where students have unexpected encounters, where new friendships are made. It is hard to see how this could be in a world of blended instruction. Cohorting will keep student interaction at a minimum, so they would be exposed to 75 percent fewer members of the class—and the odds are good that friends will not be in the same cohorts. Schedules will be designed without free periods, so people won't be able to hang out in the halls together. And lunch will presumably not be in the cafeteria and without spoken communication due to mask removal, rendering lunchtime get-togethers moot. Most significantly, all in-person clubs, publications, theater, and PSAL sports will not be happening, so all of these opportunities to make friends and connections will also be closed. Even one-on-one meetings with teachers will have to be held in open places while wearing a mask—at least in an online meetup, it is possible to see the other person's face.
4. UNKNOWN FUTURE
Even though the numbers for NYC look good now, many epidemiologists and public health professionals fully expect a second wave to come in the fall. Indeed, the reopening of schools may well trigger this second wave. What is the point of smashing the program and wrecking the normal Stuyvesant experience if we just have to go remote anyway? Meanwhile, full remote learning for now would easily allow the existing program to be put into place. That way, if a vaccine were developed, it would be comparatively easy to snap from remote to in-person learning. Once the school is programmed for blended, it is an omelet that will be impossible to unscramble. Additionally, according to DOE protocols, if any students do develop COVID-19 (or even COVID-19 symptoms) the already disruptive blended experience would be further disrupted by mandatory rolling quarantines triggered throughout the year when a COVID-19 positive staff member or student is identified.
While blended learning may seem ideal, it is clear that for Stuyvesant it is the worst of all worlds. A commitment to full-remote learning that would include regular video-conference interaction with teachers would allow the school to continue to accomplish its mission and deliver a world-class education to all.