The COVID-19 pandemic intruded into every area of people’s lives and academics are no exception. Most students first heard the news of their school closure in March 2020. At first, it was only a few weeks but soon those weeks turned into months. Worldwide, 90% of students were impacted by school closures. Consequently, millions of students went without school-provided meals, emotional support, and social interactions. Although schools switched online, a great deal of support was lost. In spite of the many students who struggled with online schooling, there’s no doubt that other students thrived with this form of learning, thanks to the independence and comfort it provided them. Regardless, the losses public schools have faced are too great to justify purely remote learning. Then again, meeting in-person may spread the virus and pose a risk to family members and staff members. Recently, many districts around the US have opted for another form of learning, a compromise. “Hybrid” school involves a mix of in-person and remote learning, often focusing on students with specialized needs, and implementing safety procedures. All public schools should adopt hybrid models of education instead of waiting for a vaccine so as to ensure that learning continues while also protecting the well-being of both students and staff.
The Hybrid Model
In recent years, the number of students learning remotely has gradually increased. Online schools for college and homeschooled students can provide more comfort, independence, and lowered costs. But remote learning can be difficult for students who rely on the support of their teachers and peers, which explains why so many students struggled with the sudden switch in 2020. And although students themselves may not be at a high risk of suffering from COVID, teachers and family members definitely are. Nonetheless, meeting in-person is essential and highly recommended by pediatricians. Besides the physiological effects of social distancing, students’ physical activity and food security were impacted by school closures. Furthermore, 35% of households with school-age children lack an internet connection, an issue that disproportionately affects students of color. As a result, students of color and those who live in low-income households were often excluded from learning this past school year, through no fault of their own. Additionally, younger children required more support, so guardians often had to step in and provide guidance even when they didn’t have the time or expertise to do so. Justin Reich, a professor at MIT, explains that millions of students essentially missed a third of their school year. This coming fall, school administrators need to guarantee that their students and staff stay safe. More than that, though, students need nutritional, mental, and emotional support during this time.
The hybrid model comes in many different forms, but it essentially involves altered schedules, a focus on core subjects, and a priority on the English-learning, low-income, and special education students. Other schools may create new attendance policies and calendars. Although the number of students on campus will be limited, these face-to-face meetings will provide low-income students with meals and give students the assistance they need. Implementing these changes will take much effort, but it will help teachers continue teaching and students continue learning.
Protecting Staff and Students
For a hybrid school to be successful in the midst of COVID-19, safety needs to come first. It’s true that younger children appear to be less susceptible to COVID, but parents and teachers face a greater risk. The rising cases within the US do nothing to ease discomfort. Therefore, extensive safety measures will need to be taken. Pediatrics stress the use of social distancing, face coverings, use of outdoor spaces, and alternate modes of transportation for bus riders. As a result, fewer students will be allowed in classrooms and schedules will need to be altered. Ultimately, it should be each family’s individual decision whether they feel comfortable sending their kid to school. Teachers who are at a high risk of infection should also be able to choose. If state governments require hybrid schools, they need to ensure that considerable safety measures are taken so that education can continue.
Waiting for a Vaccine Won’t Work
Despite the priority schools have on safety, there are still some who want to push back the academic calendar until a vaccine comes out. Mark Cuban, who believes there will be a vaccine this coming fall, tweeted that keeping schools closed will remove the stress and risk associated with reopening. Although many scientists are optimistic that a vaccine will be on the market by fall, there is no guarantee of this and some experts doubt a vaccine will be ready so soon. These doubts are sustained by the fact that no viable vaccine has ever been approved in the US or UK for other forms of coronavirus. In any case, there is still a great deal of uncertainty around whether coronavirus antibodies even provide protection from reinfection or not. Furthermore, pushing academic schedules back will only cause a greater loss in education, and more trouble for guardians who cannot care for their children during school hours. Providing that administrators take every possible effort to protect staff and students, there is no reason why a hybrid school would further the spread of COVID-19. To wait for a vaccine is to put hope in a faulty solution and unnecessarily deprive students of learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic is showing no end in sight and education must continue. There is no perfect remedy for this dilemma, but a hybrid school will preserve academics and well-being. The switch will take a great amount of effort and discipline from everyone, but waiting for a vaccine is not an option. Neither is using exclusively online platforms as that does not work for many students, specifically those with specialized needs. Teachers will need to adapt their lessons, and students will need to be as flexible as possible. Admittedly, students and parents won’t often have a say in what their districts opt for, but simply reaching out through an email or phone call can give administrators the push they need. Already, many districts have announced that their schools will be hybrid, but this change needs to come on a state-wide level as well. On the whole, a hybrid school model is simply the safest and most efficient option for the coming school year and exactly what students need.