For any school district, planning to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic is no simple task. Besides following safety guidelines, teachers may have to continue adapting to still-unfamiliar remote learning, and being in school may look quite different for students and educators.
Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District officials are taking a proactive approach to the 2020-21 school year, they said. While specific state guidelines for safety protocols are still unclear, the district is planning three possible scenarios for September.
Bellmore-Merrick’s newly formed reopening committee began meeting in early June. It consists of teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, parents and other school personnel. With uncertainty surrounding the future reopening, they laid out three possibilities: a normal return to school with certain safety guidelines, a return to remote online learning and a hybrid of the two.
In preparation for a return to online learning, the district has made “major enhancements” to the practices it used while schools were shut down, according to Michael Harrington, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The distance-learning model has been “revamped,” including designating Google Classroom as the primary means by which classes would be held throughout the district.
Students could also expect a more structured learning experience, as attendance and participation would be mandated. Numerical grading would also return, as opposed to the no-harm grading policy used after the shutdown.
A return to in-person classes would, in many ways, be a stark contrast from the usual state of Bellmore-Merrick’s halls and classrooms. Masks would likely be required, and desks would need to be spaced out to follow social-distancing requirements. Hand-sanitizing stations would be abundant in hallways, which may be converted to one-way paths.
“We want all kids back,” Harrington said. “We obviously want there to be little risk and for kids to be safe and healthy, but we do understand the importance of getting kids back in school.”
The hybrid model for reopening would blend the two plans, with students alternating between in-person and online learning. The plan poses a challenge for teachers: How do you conduct a class that is divided in such a way? And would lessons have to be repeated for alternating groups of students in one class?
“You can’t exactly teach the same lesson two days in a row, because then you’ll only get through half the curriculum,” said Rob Walsh, a math teacher at Wellington C. Mepham High School and president of the Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers’ union. “But teachers also can’t teach two different lessons every day, or we’re teaching twice as much as we normally would. Not to mention, we’re still trying to master these [remote-teaching] skills.”
In the hybrid model, teachers would have to prepare materials for students to watch or read the night before their class, so students could come prepared with questions the next day — rather than having the teacher present that material in an in-person class.
“We are concerned that it’ll be a lot on teachers,” Walsh said. Many teachers also have younger children at home who may be in remote-learning programs themselves, he added.
Teachers, however, want to be back, Walsh said. The nuances of teaching students face-to-face in a classroom “are things that can’t happen on a Zoom call,” he said. “It’s not the same.”
“No matter what plan we put in place, nothing will replace in-person instruction,” Harrington said.
“We got into the profession to work with kids,” Superintendent John DeTommaso said. “While remote learning is something we will have the ability to do well, we’d like to see their faces and feel the energy — as long as it’s safe.”