What is a ‘hybrid’ education plan?
Details depend on the individual school district
HUGE NUMBERS of Massachusetts students this fall will be returning to school on a “hybrid” plan – some mix of in-person and remote learning.
Like so much of the post-pandemic lexicon, no one until this summer had heard of a “hybrid” model of schooling and no school had yet developed one. So what exactly is a hybrid model? The answer depends on the district.
“If you’ve seen one hybrid, you’ve seen one hybrid,” said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Every school district is required by the state to develop three models: an in-person model, a hybrid model, and a remote model. It is up to the school committee which one to use.
Koocher said districts have developed “all kinds of different plans.” The differences could be based on a variety of factors, such as faculty availability, school size, or student population. “The reason a lot of districts are choosing hybrid is they feel it gives them all the flexibility they might want in terms of how fast they come back, how they phase back in. It keeps their options open,” Koocher said.
A look at districts’ hybrid plans – whether or not they end up using them – shows just how different many of them are.
In Weston, a wealthy Boston suburb, students using the hybrid schedule will be divided into two groups. Group A will attend school in-person Monday and Thursday, Group B will attend in-person Tuesday and Friday. All students will learn remotely the other days. Remote learning on Wednesdays will be more asynchronous – relying on videos and independent assignments rather than online classes – so teachers have time for planning.
School administrators wrote in their reopening plan that they considered other plans: having students alternate weeks or come in for half-days. The advantage of the two-day-a-week model, they wrote, is the curriculum and instruction can happen in parallel with both segments of the class and students are never out of school for an extended period of time. The major drawback is it will be difficult to track students and contact trace if there is a COVID-19 outbreak.
Mohawk Trail Regional School District in western Massachusetts also envisions a hybrid model with in-person learning two days a week, but on a different schedule. One group will attend school Monday and Tuesday, and another group will be in school Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday used to deep clean the building. The whole class will meet together remotely on Wednesday for online learning.
In Chelsea, an urban area hard-hit by the virus, students will switch between in-person and remote learning on alternating weeks. Some special populations – like students with disabilities and pre-k and kindergarten students – will attend school every week.
School days will be shorter than usual. In middle and high school, Chelsea students will be in class for just 3.5 hours a day, then will be sent home to do independent remote work in the afternoon. That allows the teacher to teach remotely in the afternoon to that week’s remote students, who will spend their mornings working independently.
But not all of them are. Lexington students will return for the regular-length school day every day for one week (with early dismissal on Fridays), then learn remotely for the next week while another group of students heads into class. Elementary school students will get lunch in their classrooms while middle and high schoolers will have grab and go lunch options. High school students will have fewer classes for longer periods of time so they limit the number of other students they interact with.
The Lexington reopening plan includes a chart of seven models that were considered, showing the complexity and pros and cons of each. For example, bringing half the students back in the morning and half in the afternoon would give students time to see their teacher each day – but would double transportation costs and limit the ability to clean between cohorts. Bringing students back two days a week would provide some continuity without long breaks from school, but would make daycare difficult for families. Bringing all elementary students back would give them a consistent schedule – but may not prepare them to return to all-remote if there is a second wave of COVID-19.
Many schools differentiate between different populations of students. In Dedham, high-needs students will return to school four days a week starting September 21. These include students with disabilities, those learning English, homeless students, foster children, and economically disadvantaged students. Other students will remain remote until October 5, when they will return two days a week.
Cambridge will start the year by letting kindergarten through third grade students return to school four days a week, along with all special education and English immersion students. Fourth through twelfth graders will start the year remotely.
Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novick said the first factor many districts run into when crafting a hybrid plan is the physical realities of their buildings. This includes how many children can fit into each classroom under new physical distancing guidelines and whether there are classrooms that cannot be used due to a lack of ventilation. “You run into bricks before you run into anything else,” Novick said.
Then transportation plays a role. If buses can only run at one-third capacity to avoid crowding, districts may not have enough buses or drivers to get students to school.Because of transportation issues, Novick said Worcester’s hybrid plan morphed from bringing one-third of students into school at a time to bringing one-quarter of students into school at one time.
Worcester will vote this week on a proposal to start school remotely then transition to hybrid in November. Novick said under the hybrid model, students would only be in the building one day a week – or nine days per quarter. Novick said that limited time makes her question whether the value of that in-school time is worth putting money and resources into the building. “You start to question how much are you getting out of that day? I don’t know answer to that,” she said.