SPF’s planned switch to hybrid learning was a recipe for disaster to begin with


by Amit Deshpande
On Monday, Nov. 16, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district was prepared to switch to a hybrid learning model, splitting students into two cohorts and maintaining approximately 25% capacity in the school building throughout the week. This learning structure was meant to be implemented back in September, but it was cancelled due to an issue with building ventilation. On Sunday, Nov. 15, an email was sent out notifying students and parents that the hybrid learning schedule was cancelled and that the school district will consider a goal of switching back after December. 
This last minute callback was inevitable; new daily COVID-19 cases are rising once again to levels seen after the initial shutdown in March. One may ask: why was the district hasty with its plans to switch to hybrid learning? A high-risk scenario during the second wave of a highly contagious virus encompasses too many uncontrollable variables to maintain a successful hybrid learning model. 
The district was worried about parents and students who are unable and unwilling to settle for a virtual learning environment. Many students are feeling the adverse effects of a near eight-month lockdown, along with an incomplete high school experience. It is, without a doubt, not an optimal situation. But the risks of in-person learning are far too great to rush back to “normal” and the educational trade off may not be worth it. 
Without over half the students remaining online at a time, teachers will still have to teach them, creating a chaotic learning environment,” senior Eshaan Basu said. “Whatever educational benefits may arise in spite of this are not enough to risk the health of the town, especially considering how many schools have been shutting down.”
Basu raises a great point about class management in the proposed hybrid model. Hybrid learning would effectively split students into two “classes”: in-person and virtual. Teachers would have to manage these two groups individually, which would result in either uneven teacher attention or an even, but inefficient, teacher attention, while still burdening teachers with more responsibilities. 
If SPFHS had continued to hybrid, I would anticipate that my teaching structure would have gotten more difficult,” physics teacher Adric Quackenbush said. “Trying to run simultaneous instruction for in-person and on-meet would be challenging, and to do it to a degree that I find satisfactory monumentally challenging”. 
In response to this anticipated issue, many teachers had informed their students that in-person class would function the same as at-home learning, where all students would meet online and complete assignments there. This naturally invalidates the entire purpose of in-person learning, rendering it even less effective if it had been implemented. 
The logistics surrounding health safety were even more worrisome. Despite proper precautions taken by the district—such as mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, fixed air ventilation and suspending lunch services—it was impossible to move students from class to class without breaching social distancing guidelines, even for a brief moment. Furthermore, non-COVID related health issues arose in response to the proposed schedule, which would constitute an 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. day with 10-15 minute breaks in between classes and no lunch break. 
“My schedule would have been more tiring, as anyone going five hours straight without dedicated food or beverage breaks would agree,” Quackenbush said. 
The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult, and many sacrifices have been made to adjust to its devastating impact. The frustration of parents and students is understandable. But this means that it is even more important for everyone to careful and deliberate in the return to normalcy. Patience is paramount as the country makes it through the second wave and awaits a vaccine. With time, the district and the community will return and will be together again.