Dallas ISD Unveils Hybrid Learning Model, but Teachers' Advocates Warn of COVID-19 Surge

Dallas ISD's school board will vote Thursday on a hybrid learning model.EXPAND
Dallas ISD's school board will vote Thursday on a hybrid learning model.
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UPDATE, Sept. 25: The board approved on Sept. 24 the model described in this story.

After weighing comments from principals and parents, Dallas ISD officials announced a hybrid learning model for all high schools and Lakewood Elementary. The school board will vote on the plan Thursday, with high school schedules going out Friday.

District officials believe the plan will help with social distancing, but some teachers’ advocates fear that it's still too risky.

“We all know that face-to-face learning is the most effective, but it is not the safest, and that’s what we have to be concerned with right now,” said Rena Honea, president of Dallas’ Alliance/AFT teachers’ union.

Under the hybrid model, students will be split into two “cohorts,” with one group attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other going Thursdays and Fridays, according to Fox 4 News. Wednesdays will be a “flex” day.

If approved, the hybrid model will be reevaluated after nine weeks.

A district survey found that 82% of Lakewood Elementary parents wanted their kids to return to school. However, the district opted for a hybrid option because of space concerns.

Jolee Healey, Dallas ISD’s chief of schools, told Fox 4 News on Tuesday that high schools were included in the model because of the large number of transitions that students make between classes. Also, teens are less likely to abide by coronavirus safety practices, she said.

“Students that are older — 11th and 12th graders — are not as consistent with their PPE, and using their masks and their social distancing,” Healey said.

Last month, Honea led Dallas ISD teachers and supporters in staging a car caravan protest to demand that classes remain virtual until January 2021. Honea said at the time that there needs to be a 14-day drop in coronavirus cases prior to reopening classrooms.

That steady, consistent decline still hasn’t happened, she said.

Dallas ISD’s school board has the option of delaying in-person learning for another four weeks of school, provided the Texas Education Agency approves it, Honea said. The vote to extend virtual learning would likely need to occur at Thursday's meeting, she said, but she doesn’t see that happening.

Honea said it’s understandable that some parents are frustrated with the online learning process and would like to return to work. Many want their children to be able to socialize with their peers once more, but she said that it’s at the expense of educators.

“The phrase is: ‘Don’t ask us to set ourselves on fire to keep you warm,’” Honea said. “And that’s exactly what’s happening here.”

Fort Worth ISD voted on Tuesday to extend virtual learning until Oct. 16, according to NBC-DFW.

Although Honea said Dallas’ hybrid plan is better than mandatory on-campus learning, many educators would prefer the online option. Some teachers are quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus and their students haven’t even returned yet, she said.

Educators recognize that face-to-face instruction is the best way to learn, Honea added, but they will risk sickness or death if they step into school buildings. While some kids may be “star and stellar students” in terms of following the district’s COVID-19 guidelines, others will be laxer, she said.

“We’re going to have innocent people that will pay consequences for the reckless acts of others,” Honea said.

“I don’t care what plans are made on paper,” she continued. “They look great, but when it comes to the implementation, everyone uses their own interpretation."

Kevin Hopper, a teacher at Bryan Adams High School, said that the hybrid model is an innovative way to ensure smaller class sizes. That will lead students to have a better educational experience, he said.

But Hopper, who is also a union member, said he thinks it's too soon to reopen classrooms to students. He said he's concerned about the district's reentry guidelines and its "lack of policies."

“I would rather see the district continue what we’re doing right now with online learning for another four weeks before we consider bringing students back using the hybrid model," Hopper said.

According to Dallas ISD’s hybrid plan, pre-k, kindergarten and sixth-grade students will return to school Monday, and ninth-graders will begin the hybrid model. All other on-campus learners will go back Oct. 5.

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