After heated discussion, Lawrence school board narrowly approves moving to hybrid learning model in October
photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school district
Lawrence students will be returning to classrooms next month, but it took a long and intense conversation by the school board to reach that conclusion.
After a seven-hour meeting on Monday that lasted roughly until midnight, the board voted 4-3 to move its fully remote learning method to a hybrid learning option on Oct. 19. The district has used fully remote learning to start the school year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With the approval of the hybrid plan, Lawrence schools next month will separate students into two groups that attend in-person classes every other day, interchangeably. When students are not learning in person, they will take their classes remotely. Additionally, on Wednesdays, the plan calls for all students to learn remotely.
Board members Shannon Kimball, G.R. Gordon-Ross and Carole Cadue-Blackwood voted against the plan. Kimball and Cadue-Blackwood said earlier in the meeting that they felt they could not support the plan, both because of health risks and because teachers would be stretched too thin by having to prepare two different sets of lessons — one for in-person classes and another for remote learning.
Meanwhile, Gordon-Ross said he supported moving to a hybrid model, but he believed the district administration’s plan wasn’t yet in a finished state. He said the topics the board was discussing for the first time on Monday should have been discussed two weeks earlier. And at one point, Gordon-Ross and Board President Kelly Jones proposed using a phased approach instead to give the district more time to work on the plan and give teachers more time to prepare for the switch.
But that did not sit well with Superintendent Anthony Lewis, who said he was “totally floored” by the suggestion. He said the district administration had “worked their tail off” to provide the proposed plan to the board.
After seeing Lewis visibly frustrated with the board, Jones eventually said she would join board members Melissa Johnson, Erica Hill and Paula Smith in supporting the district’s original hybrid learning proposal. She said she believed moving to hybrid learning would help the district account for students who are slipping through the cracks in various ways through the current remote learning model. Similarly, Johnson, Hill and Smith all said they thought fully remote learning was detrimental to the education of vulnerable students.
“This has been a very challenging meeting,” Jones said. “Where I am landing is making sure we are accounting for our kids with the most need.”
Earlier in the meeting, Kimball said she was worried that moving to the hybrid option would be solving some problems, but creating a host of new ones. She said an example would be a student getting less direct teacher instruction in the hybrid option than they are currently getting in fully remote learning because a teacher would be splitting their time between two groups of students.
Kimball also suggested that combining in-person and remote learning would be difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to do effectively. She said she received comments from teachers who said teaching under normal conditions is difficult, and teaching in a remote setting is extremely difficult, but doing both is “completely unrealistic.”
“That is a common sentiment that we are getting from our teachers in our district,” Kimball said. “I think we have to acknowledge that and address it when making this decision, and I’m really struggling with that.”
Other board members voiced similar sentiments about teacher burnout. Jones said she understood the importance of in-person learning, especially for helping to address students’ social and emotional issues caused by the disruption of classes during the ongoing pandemic. But she also feared the hybrid learning plan would not be feasible for teachers either.
“I’m frustrated teachers can’t get more plan time, as they are being asked to do, truly, twice as much work,” Jones said. “Is (the benefit of in-person learning) enough to offset what we are asking teachers to do?”
Additionally, Lindsay Buck, president of the local teachers union, asked the board during the meeting’s public comment period to extend remote learning through winter break. She said moving to hybrid would be putting teachers’ lives at risk, among other concerns teachers had.
As part of his suggestion to consider a phased plan, Gordon-Ross said he thought it would be possible for the district to get “buy-in” from staff on a plan to move to hybrid learning, but it would take more time than the three weeks remaining before Oct. 19.
But Johnson, who is a teacher for the Kansas City, Kan., school district, said she believed the district could not wait any longer. She said it was the board’s choice to set the Oct. 19 date when it first approved a plan for fully remote learning to start the school year. She said the district’s administration met the board’s date, and it was now up to the board to trust the administration.
Additionally, she said teachers might not be happy with the result, but she knows they will do what’s best for students regardless of the instruction method.
“Of the educators I know, they may not like it but they will adapt and overcome it for the kids,” Johnson said. “That’s why many of us enter this profession.”
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