OPUSD approves plan to move to hybrid learning

The OPUSD board votes to follow a hybrid model of learning starting Jan. 15

The safety measures and the drawbacks of the proposed hybrid model were discussed during the Oak Park Unified School District board meeting on Oct. 21. The board approved a model to transition into hybrid learning. This model includes a return to in-person learning at the earliest of Jan. 11, 2020 for secondary schools and Jan. 5, 2020 for elementary schools. 

“We did what was probably the hardest thing we will have to do as board members,” OPUSD Board President Barbara Laifman said during the meeting. 

The board meeting started with a presentation of safety measures to ensure the health and wellbeing of students and teachers while on campus.  Some of these measures include; improved ventilation, plexiglass shielding, student and adult masks, adult face shields, disinfectant spray, arrival screening procedures, restroom monitoring, directional pathways and COVID-19 testing procedures.

The results of a previous parent survey was presented as well.  The focus of the survey was if parents would allow their child to participate in hybrid learning. In total of all OPUSD elementary schools, the initial vote was 51.36% for yes, parents would send their child back for hybrid learning, and 48.64% for no, their child will stay on the distance learning program. 

Some board members pointed out concerns about the timing of the survey. 

“Why aren’t we resurveying our parents now? Our parents haven’t learned about any of this information until tonight …  Knowing that information now and pushing that information to our parents, the results of that survey are going to change,” OPUSD Board Member Derek Ross said during the meeting. 

A survey was sent out on Nov. 5 along with information about what parents can expect as far as safety and curriculum in hybrid learning so parents can make a final, informed choice as to whether their child will participate in hybrid learning, or remain in distance learning.

Teachers also voiced concerns about the distance learning and hybrid model described in a new MOU, or, Memorandum of Understanding between the district and the teacher’s union. 

“Students are struggling with a lack of pure interaction. Teachers are drowning in creation of new curriculum and technological difficulties and juggling everything in between … I am not under the impression that we’ll never go back to the classroom. I understand the need to implement the hybrid model even with the risks that come with it. However, beyond the risk of illness, the hybrid model is not beneficial to students or teachers,” Medea Creek Middle School 7th Grade Language Arts Department Chair Linday Smits wrote in the public comments. 

The main issue heard from many of the teachers’ comments was the difficulty of teaching two groups of students and developing a curriculum for hybrid and distance learning at the same time. 

“Going back in January with the new MOU with the expectations that I teach potentially three groups of students at the same time on some sort of rotation is going to be mentally and physically impossible,” Oak Park High School geometry teacher Chris Henderson wrote.

Comments from the teachers showed that some did not support how the hybrid model was being formatted. 

“We have an MOU from the union that is representing their members support this, and all we’re hearing is no support,” Ross said.

The district had a response for the concerns of the teachers.

“I think finding ways to support the teachers instructionally, just like on the safety end, that is also something that needs to be undertaken,” OPUSD Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight said.  “At the same time teachers are still doing distance learning so they are occupied, but thankfully in the model that we have which is incredibly innovative, and I support it so strongly, the Friday model that we have which will continue, allows us time to continue and support teachers and allow them time to figure these things out.”