Appoquinimink moves toward next phase of hybrid instruction

ODESSA — With some Appoquinimink students back in school under hybrid instruction, the district is looking ahead to “Hybrid 2.0,” including full-day classes for secondary students and camera usage to livestream, as early as next month.

The update is one of the many rolling changes school districts and charters are facing as they try to adapt to educating under coronavirus.

The district rolled in its hybrid learning model about three weeks ago. The district’s youngest learners are receiving live instruction for two-and-a-half days a week. In Cohort X, that’s attending school 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, followed by live virtual instruction for part of the day Wednesday. Thursday and Friday, while Cohort Y is in school, Cohort X will be doing preassigned, on-your-own work. Parents also can opt for an entirely virtual option.

The installation of cameras — scheduled for Jan. 11 for grades kindergarten through five — increases live instruction to four-and-a-half days a week.

The cameras would connect virtual and in-person classes and would run through the district’s Zoom system.

So, for Cohort X, that would mean Monday and Tuesday in-person schooling, live virtual instruction part of the day Wednesday, followed by live virtual instruction Thursday and Friday. And vice versa for Cohort Y.

The secondary schools will have live cameras installed by Dec. 14, at which time, students will move to a full-day schedule, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

All classes will be synchronized with the use of the camera.

Families will begin receiving surveys to choose hybrid or virtual schooling this week.

“We’re starting to get those questions again: Why are we not returning to five days a week?” Superintendent Dr. Matt Burrows said Tuesday. “I know we’ve mentioned this a few times. With 34 pages of guidance (from the Department of Education) and directives from the governor, the (Division of Public Health) and our Department of Education, that’s telling us that we can operate in a hybrid situation with restrictions that are involved, which preclude us from opening in a five-day or four-day setting.”

He acknowledged that there are districts in the state that have been able to bring in groups of students for more days a week.

“You have to remember, we’re a growing district. We grow every year, and we’re constantly building buildings, and space is at a premium for us. We do not have the space other districts may have to be able to put teachers in different classrooms and things like that,” he said. “As soon as the guidance allows us to, we will look to a five-day-a-week model.”

Dr. Edmond Gurdo, supervisor of student services, said the intention isn’t for students to be on Zoom nonstop all day.

“We have a work group working on that, so that there are some times in between for everyday evidence, for students to have time off screen, time off Zoom, time where they can do some work in the classroom with the camera off,” he said.

And the new Logitech cameras — made possible by federal, state and local funding targeting COVID-19 expenses — present a new problem: showing students inside the classroom.

Dr. Gurdo said the district is working on revising its photo/video consent release form.

“The district attorney is just in the final stages of reviewing that,” he said. “And then, there will also be some communication both to staff and parents about the usage of the cameras, as well.”

Some educators had their concerns about these changes.

Laura Conner, a teacher at Alfred Waters Middle, noted that a full-day hybrid won’t be like “normal.”

“The reality is that it will be more like a Zoom session for all. All students will be on devices and be engaging in the work on the devices. Students on Zoom from home will lose a lot of their ability to interact and have the focus of the teacher,” she said. “I’m not sure that parents and other stakeholders understand that being in the building full time does not mean a return to the typical type of instruction that we were used to pre-COVID.”

Jennifer Schimpf, a mom and teacher at Townsend Early Education Center, also had concerns about the livestreaming through the week, noting that asynchronous days allowed for teachers to develop student-specific work that could address their unique needs or individualized education program.

“Unless you’ve ever led a Zoom with kindergarten students, you cannot even imagine how difficult it is to maintain their attention and engagement,” she told the board. “So you also can’t imagine how impossible it would be to maintain their attention, while also teaching the group of students in the classroom.”

One of the groups, she said, is always going to lose out in the situation of a teacher managing a virtual and in-person class at the same time.

“We’re worried that our virtual students, the ones who are fully virtual, will lose out the most because they will never get dedicated face-to-face time,” she added.

Both teachers cited concerns about privacy for students in the classroom, particularly for those with IEPs or behavior plans.

Dr. Gurdo said that the cameras can be turned off and muted, which would allow for the teachers to deal with the situation at hand in class.

“We really try to minimize those circumstances, and there are a lot of ways we work with students and make sure we’re de-escalating the situation and helping the student work through the situation the best as possible without having to do that,” he said. “However, as a last resort, that is an option there, to be able to mute and turn off video.”

The teachers emphasized the need for their voices to be heard in those conversations. Ms. Conner called it “demoralizing” to be “continually discounted and unheard.”

Ms. Schimpf agreed.

“It is your teachers that are in the trenches. We are making the plans. We’re teaching the lessons. We’re leading the Zooms. And we really are making this work,” she said. “It’s us teachers who know what our students need and what’s best for their social-emotional and academic development.”

COVID-19 cases
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Burrows said that the district has had 39 total cases of COVID-19. Of those, 30 have been on the student side; nine have been staff members.

Twenty-three of the student cases are individuals who have come into the building and are considered “high-risk students,” Dr. Burrows said. Seven were fully virtual students. Thus far, 18 have been cleared.

Of the nine staff members, five have been cleared.

About 8,000 students and 1,200 staff members have been in the schools since returning Oct. 19, he said.

“I’m not going to sit up here and say that these numbers are low — which, if you take a percentage of them, they are low — but one person is one too many, and we’re trying to mitigate this,” he said. “But we’re also following the safety practices that are in place.”

Dr. Burrows noted that the district has received questions about what number of positive cases will close a building or the district overall.

“I want you to know, on a daily basis, we’re in contact with the (Division of Public Health), and we have a liaison with (DPH) that’s looking at not only our school numbers but our community’s numbers, and we take advice from them on what the path forward is and what we need to be looking at in regards to that,” he said.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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