Distance Students Left Behind in Push to Hybrid

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Matt Grant, principal at OHS.

Cole Wilson, Journalist

While OHS and the rest of the Olympia School District transitions to hybrid, the school system’s attention towards distance students is waning. Class time for virtual students has been decreased to a fraction of hybrid students’ time (nearly half), leading to more and more asynchronous lessons and less live instruction. In addition, there could be even more drastic changes coming to the schedule soon. These new changes could have big effects on both students and teachers, such as a lot more stress.

 

Many students are choosing to stay virtual, either because they have health concerns, or another member of their family does. These students’ learning time has been decreased dramatically to make way for students returning to school. Students in Cohort C, or full distance students, have 25 minute periods for each of their classes on Wednesday afternoons.  Cohorts A and B however have three 50 minute periods twice a week. In all, remote students have half the amount of live instruction time in the afternoons than cohorts A and B. When asked about this issue, Mr. Grant, the principal of Olympia High School, talked about the plan to resolve this inequity: “The better job we do with asynchronous [lessons], the more equitable we can make it.” In addition, he suggested that asynchronous learning will be the only remedy, not finding more time for live meetings: “I think we have to improve on our asynchronous offering, I think that’s the best we can do, we are limited on minutes.”

 

It also should be noted that the time difference between cohorts will likely shift even more. In March, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington (SPI) Chris Reykdal called OSD superintendent Patrick Murphy about how the district is failing to meet requirements for learning time. “Our presumption of course is that districts are following the law around what is allowable for instructional hours, and they have to get there. In high school it’s about 1,080 hours a year…” says Chris Reykdal, SPI. Unfortunately, the OSD is not at that standard yet. By April 15th all schools in the district must be reaching 30% of their pre-pandemic instructional hours. This will mean that OHS will have to add several hours to in-person time, as they are currently only at 20%. Later, Reykdal added “Olympia is probably one of 10 districts left where we are not confident in their reopening plans enough to release their next round of federal dollars. They’ll get there, they need to get there by the 19th.” This likely means that the needed time will be taken from distance learning class time in the afternoon, as there isn’t anywhere else to take it from. Dr. Murphy, the superintendent of the OSD was reached for comment but after two reschedulings was unavailable to interview before the date of writing.

Another group that the transition to hybrid has affected is teachers who have health concerns. While lots of teachers are able to safely go back into school, many teachers are unable to. There is a lot of messaging going home about how teachers will return once they are vaccinated. On this topic, Mr. Grant says: “I think they are going to have to make a choice: ‘will I come in person or will I need to take some leave time?’”