Teachers react to DCPS’s hybrid learning plan

Charlotte Guy and Emily Mulderig

The second semester is underway, and teachers have to face the entirely new challenge of teaching a combination of both in-person and virtual students. 

Matthew Burgoyne, a history teacher, feels that the District was rushing to get kids back in school, but applauds Wilson’s administration for crafting a plan that fits the guidelines provided by DCPS while prioritizing student and teacher safety. 

“I really do feel that the school plan is the best it can be under the circumstances that were provided,” he said. Despite this, Burgoyne still has some concerns about being in the building for a period of time without full immunity. Like many other teachers, he has only just received his second dose of COVID-19 vaccine this week.

ELA teacher Jennifer McLaughlin was also not comfortable returning without both doses, but unlike Burgoyne, she asked to not return until Monday, February 22, when she will have gotten her second dose. 

At first, math teacher Grant Franke had concerns about returning before receiving both doses, but he is comforted by the many precautions Wilson has taken to ensure the community’s safety. “I think the risks are smaller than I initially thought,” Franke said. 

Improved ventilation, socially distant desks, and limited capacity classrooms have granted Franke peace of mind about potentially exposing his wife and baby daughter to the virus.

Unlike Franke, special education academic coordinator and teacher Chisda Magid does not have confidence in the safety of returning and was granted exemption through the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) because of a medical condition. “I will do everything in my power not to attend in-person to [avoid putting] me and my family at risk,” he said.

Magid also raised concerns about the reopening plan not serving the student body equitably. He believes that since lower-income families are far more likely to have suffered from COVID-19, have limited access to quality, affordable healthcare, and live with high-risk individuals, they will be wary of returning to school.

“A number of my students have had Covid, some students have had multiple deaths in the family from Covid,” he said. 

Magid added that, “The plan now, I would say, not only does it not address the social, emotional, or academic needs of my students…it exacerbates inequities, by providing greater access to students who need it the least.” 

Principal Kimberly Martin agrees that the hybrid model is not equitable. “When I first shared [the plan] with teachers, I wrote in one of the weaknesses was that this plan benefits people who live closer to the school [who] tend to be wealthier white students and their families.”  

Martin recognizes that no reopening plan can satisfy emotional, academic, and safety concerns all at once, but she’s hopeful that by the fourth advisory, in-person learning opportunities will be expanded to better serve the school community. 

Chemistry teacher Will Gomaa made a deliberate effort to make sure he was reaching out to every eligible family in his in-person classes, providing a translator when necessary.

In his first period class, all ten students have returned. In his third period, nine came the first week of the second semester, but that number dropped to seven students in the second week. He made sure the students signed up were representative of the student body. 

Gomaa also strongly believes that the precautions Wilson has taken will successfully mitigate the potential chances of spreading COVID-19 and is thrilled to be teaching in person. 

He is utilizing this time for hands-on learning like labs which he firmly believes will be beneficial to his students’ understanding of the material. “People in person are going to get a better experience than people remote, which is just inevitable,” Gomaa said. 

On the other hand, Burgoyne has not changed his lesson plans to accommodate his in-person students. In both his first and third period classes, he has just three students in-person and over 30 online. 

Burgoyne explained that, in his case, adjusting instruction would not give all of his students an equal experience. Instead, he believes that “it is incumbent on the students to take advantage of their [in-school] time” to ask questions and receive one-on-one support.

Some staff members have been apprehensive about teaching both in-person and remote students at the same time. “I think both styles require different skill sets with different teaching methods,” Franke said.  

Health teacher Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith is more worried about the usefulness of hybrid learning. “If I have under six students coming into the building for health class, and I will have another 15 or 20 online, I could still do this at home,” she said. 

Despite the apprehensiveness of staff, many are consoled by the fact that in-person class could provide a safe-haven for students who are struggling. “I think it would be naive to say it wouldn’t be helpful completely. There are some students that are going to benefit greatly from being able to get out of the house and to get to  school one day a week,” Burgoyne said.

While in-person classes will hopefully be beneficial for some students, Wilson under the hybrid model doesn’t look anything like it used to. McLaughlin lamented the fact that any form of in-person class in the near future will not be the same as it was pre-pandemic. 

“Even if you’re in a classroom, you have to be six feet apart, and you technically shouldn’t be facing each other. So even ideas of group work and group activities, they can’t live in the same way,” McLaughlin said, adding that, “teaching in the classroom in 2021 isn’t like it was in 2019.”