Hybrid? Virtual? It’s All a Cluster.

Like so many others across the country, the school district we live in is considering the equally bad options of virtual learning vs. in-class learning vs. hybrid learning. Last night our Board of Education held a six-hour meeting to address the Superintendent’s hybrid reopening plan that would break students into cohorts with rotated learning between two groups. It would also break them into semester-long virtual learners where applicable. Oh, and year-long virtual learners where applicable, which would be a separate “school” altogether. And students may or may not keep the same teacher or start/end times for their days.

And that’s just the tip of the what-the-heck, head-scratching iceberg.

The best part of the meeting for me was when in hour five, undoubtedly in a moment of exhaustion and frustration, our Superintendent got real: “I don’t like hybrid learning. It’s a mess and I don’t like it.” He went on to explain that he was nonetheless offering a hybrid plan because there are many students and parents who need, for various reasons, their students in a brick and mortar school. And that’s true: despite our very real COVID concerns, some families simply cannot continue down the path of virtual learning without suffering significant hardships that might keep food off their tables or take the roof from over their heads.

I gave up on the meeting about 20 minutes before its end. My husband, who had left the heavy lifting of listening to the hours’ long meeting to me, innocently and eagerly asked for my recap and opinion. “Well,” I said, “it’s like someone handed you big pile of crap and said ‘make this smell good and look pretty. And while you’re at it, make it taste good, too.’ And then you took the steaming pile of crap and put some bows and perfume and seasoning on it then handed it back.” 

In other words, they did what they could, but a steaming pile of shit is a steaming pile of shit no matter how prettily you dress it.

Listening to the scheduling gymnastics and uprooting that our 84,000 students and their families would be subject to was more than I could stand. I pulled at my hair, yelled at my computer, prayed for mercy and wisdom all around. And that was before they started talking about the dual teaching requirements, sick leave for flu versus COVID versus suspected COVID, and disciplinary steps for kids who pull off their masks. (For the record, I am a supporter of wearing masks. That didn’t make it less sad.)

Look, some families need their kids in school. Some families don’t. And some families need them in school but are able to find work arounds to avoid it. No matter which group you fall in, it’s important to recognize that all the needs are legitimate, all the angst and worry is real. I, for instance, will send my daughter to school under a hybrid plan, should one actually be put in place. As the hybrid plan stands as presented last night, I will not be sending my son. My elementary-aged kids are different people with different needs, and we are parents with different needs as they pertain to parenting them. And we’re just one family. 

Absolutist groups who paint the other’s “side” as negligent—either for being willing to expose kids to COVID in school or ruin them emotionally by keeping them at home—are doing us all a disservice. There’s nothing like taking an unbendable stand on a complex and nuanced issue to close down effective communication and bring out the trolls. 

Our district messed up some really important stuff in its hybrid plan, but it got some other stuff right. They’ve been working their tails off, but not adequately taking comments from parents or teachers along the way that might have made their jobs easier, or at least stopped them from presenting the dressed-up poo pile we heard last night.

But look, I have no anger about this. I have concerns. I have heartache. I have fears and needs and a strong desire to enjoy the sound of silence in an empty house. But not anger. And that’s because what our Superintendent said was true: hybrid isn’t good. In fact, it’s a mess. But we have to put something forward because not doing so ignores the very real needs of many of our students, parents, and teachers. 

On the other hand, we need a fully virtual plan that also considers the very real needs of our students, parents, and teachers.  

Doing both is a Herculean task at best, downright impossible at worst. I’d say we’re leaning towards the impossible.

There are ways, however, to do the impossible in a better way, such as giving ample time for caregiver and teacher feedback. Significantly and comprehensively addressing in a public forum how IEPs and 504s will be handled and figuring out a way to meet the needs of students who are mainstreamed but still need accommodations. Providing our teachers with an MOU since we are, after all, asking them to be full-fledged super heroes. And so on. Someone is going to be unhappy no matter what, but with clear communication at least the unhappy people will be able to have a say in what they’re unhappy about. Or something like that, anyway.

I’m still not going to say that our district threw a plan at the wall to see what would stick. I know blood, sweat, and tears went into it. I know there are things to be considered that those outside of the educational system don’t know about. I know that with 84,000 students not everyone can be happy. 

There’s still time for me to comment on the proposed plan before our Board reconvenes to address it on Wednesday. If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear about them. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from one another as we create whole cloth ways of living we never even could have imagined before entering into the hellscape that is 2020.

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