Following a historic semester of fully remote learning, Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are moving forward with plans to begin a hybrid learning model for the second semester.
Last month, both school districts sent out intent forms to families to gauge individual plans about returning to hybrid instruction or remaining fully remote, the results of which have yet to be publicly released.
If you're a parent, student or teacher in CHCCS, take five minutes to fill out our remote education survey by texting "education" to 73224.
Currently, both districts are tentatively planning to proceed under a “Plan B” for the spring semester, which will offer a hybrid alternating schedule for various cohorts beginning in January, in addition to other fully-remote plans.
Jeff Nash, community relations director for CHCCS, said the cohort instruction model allows schools to practice deep cleaning and offer teachers a chance to work and connect outside of the classroom on Wednesdays.
“That gives the teachers time to do professional development," Nash said, "but also if they want to have office hours or meetings with students, they can do that."
During in-person instruction sessions, both districts plan to maintain social distancing in the classrooms, require face coverings at all times and ensure student safety through increased distancing practices during arrival, dismissal and lunch.
Hybrid instruction differs significantly from previous in-person semesters. However, it may be a welcome change for many district members. In a survey sent out by CHCCS in late October, 36 percent of parents said they were somewhat satisfied with their children’s remote learning, while 10 percent reported feeling not at all satisfied. Within staff, 29 percent said they were somewhat satisfied with remote instruction.
Some of the biggest adjustments both teachers and students said they’ve struggled with in the remote learning format are changes to the social environment and participation. In the CHCCS survey, 56 percent of students between 6th and 12th grade said they felt only somewhat connected to the adults at their school.
Ben Knight, a junior at Chapel Hill High School, said that while the transition to online learning has been handled well, he believes that socialization and motivation are becoming increasingly strained as the situation continues.
“I think there’s been a drop-off in participation as people become more exhausted with the situation,” Knight said.
Marne Meredith, a school social worker at Ephesus Elementary School and parent to a high school junior, said she noticed a similar feeling of burnout from her daughter before Thanksgiving.
“She seemed to get pretty disappointed when she thought they were going to get to go back part-time in October, but then the decision was made to extend it,” Meredith said.
Meredith said that while she would like for her daughter to be able to return to school in person, they must weigh their considerations with the safety of teachers and others who are higher-risk.
“I feel comfortable with her going back, but I do worry for the adults,” Meredith said. “It’s hard trying to balance that, ‘What does she want?’ and, ‘What does she need?’ while also accounting for the needs of the teachers.”
In a poll conducted by CHCCS in early October, more than 73 percent of teachers said they would prefer to continue with remote instruction. For many teachers, concerns over individual safety and the safety of those they live with has complicated the decision of which mode of instruction they would prefer.
Lauren Boening, a third-grade teacher at Morris Grove Elementary School, said she is concerned for teachers, especially those living with high-risk relatives, who may have to adjust at short notice to essential, in-person work.
“I understand that we’re not only ones being put in that position, and that there’s essential workers all over who are being forced into that position,” Boening said. “But it is different in that we do have an option that’s safer that we could choose to continue doing.”
Boening also said she is concerned about the potential disruption that switching to alternating hybrid formats could bring for younger ages.
“Routines changing is something that can be stressful for children,” Boening said. “If we introduce a new routine of going to school in this hybrid model, and then someone gets sick and you have to quarantine and change your routine again, it becomes stressful.”
Beth Kinney, who is a special education resource teacher at Smith Middle School, said she’s missed the level of interaction she’s previously been able to have with her students, and is looking forward to the potential of having them back in person.
“I’ve missed my students, and I’ve missed the noise of a classroom,” Kinney said. “That’s why I teach.”
But Kinney said she understands the many barriers that students are facing with returning to school in person, and is prepared to provide quality education over both formats.
Andrea Lorenz, who is a parent to both a kindergartener and third grader, said she’s excited at the potential to return to in-person instruction, but believes ongoing national and local trends with the pandemic will ultimately inform her decision.
“It’s really hard because parents have to be their own epidemiologists to figure out what’s safe,” Lorenz said
As both school districts prepare plans for the spring, they remain in conversation with other schools and the state to determine safety on an ongoing basis.
Nash said that while the district is looking forward to the possibility of a hybrid spring semester, it ultimately remains at the mercy of how the pandemic progresses.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make the decision that keeps people safe," Nash said. "And I know some folks get upset about that, but we just can’t risk it."
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