Brandywine School District is going forward with its rolling plan to get students back into buildings in a hybrid model, but not all of its teachers are pleased they're going back into schools.
Several district teachers spoke during public comment over the district's rolling reopening plan, which will continue with Pre-K through 1st graders returning on November 9, and high school students tentatively returning for a few days a week beginning in mid-December.
Carrcroft teacher Abby Sipress told the board that teachers were just learning about the district's plan at the board meeting.
"Until tonight's meeting, teachers had not been given any information on what hybrid instruction might look like, and had been given no information about who would be teaching the students who would stay remote, when we were all required to return to our buildings."
She also voiced concerns for several teachers, who said they would prefer to work from home due to having their own students who are still going through various forms of remote, hybrid, or at-home learning.
According to Sipress, Brandywine teachers received a letter on October 7 that told them they needed to be ready to go back into their classrooms on October 28.
Sipress said her request to take leave or work from home was denied, but the district offered her a solution that was similar to what other teacher's described.
"The option that was presented to me is to bring my child to school with me. As I told the committee and Mr. Hohler today, while I do appreciate that consolation, it is not a solution that I desire for my family. The ability to chose what's safest for my child, the same choice all of our district families have been given has been taken from me. I chose remote for my child, but now I have no choice but to expose myself and my child to an in-person learning environment, where is the choice?
Brandywine Superintendent Lincoln Hohler said not telling the teachers about the plan first was intentional.
"I heard from several staff members that communication is an issue, that things aren't necessarily timely, or we weren't aware of the plan tonight. That's true. We are presenting the plan to the Board of Education tonight. I believe when we are making such a change, it is incumbent upon us to inform the board, and get input and feedback on the proposed changes before they are rolled out to the teaching staff. Otherwise, we would have confusion if the board chose to have something go in a different direction."
Hohler said there remain four critical factors as the district tried to shape a hybrid plan: number of students wanting in-person learning, number of students needing district transportation, maximum capacity while following social distancing guidelines, and number of staff available for in-person learning.
According to a district survey of elementary school parents, 50% wanted in-person, while 50% wanted to keep their students remote. A month ago, that split was 52% in-person, 48% remote.
Hohler said even that small shift means 202 less students would come into the building, saving the district nine bus runs, making the hybrid model more feasible.
Under the plan, in-person learners would come into schools twice a week, while getting synchronous learning two more days while the other group switches places. Remote learners would be synchronous to their classmates for all four days.
All students would then have a series of asynchronous assignments on the 5th day, allowing for more personalized learning opportunities for students needing help. It's similar to a plan being used by Appoquinimink's secondary grades, among other districts.
Hohler said they made a focus on making sure remote learners had a similar situation to their first marking period.
"I know some of the other districts have rolled out plans that called for asynchronous where there's no interaction with the teacher during the school day, that's not part of the models that we are considering."
He added the asynchronous day has value.
"We heard from quite a few parents that the elementary students were struggling. It was hard academics, it was rigorous, it was all-day long, and there was quite a bit of mental fatigue and frustration on the part of the students. What we've done is create an asynchronous Wednesday, it does not mean they won't be getting instruction... it will be lighter to give them an opportunity to breathe a little it, refresh, rejuvenate, and hopefully get some of that social/emotional respite that parents are saying is desperately needed."
Part of that respite, Hohler said, is needed for his district's teachers.
"Planning for synchronous lessons, as they are, is something we're not used to. It takes an exorbitant amount of time and energy. Many of our teachers are putting in 12-16 hour days to provide the level of instruction they are now. It will give teachers some well-deserved additional planning time to try to reduce the long hours they're putting in at the expense of their own families."
Brandywine School District families will get one last chance to decide how they want their second marking periods to look for their students, as another survey is going out to affirm hybrid vs. remote selections. Hohler did warn that if too many people change their decisions to in-person at the last minute, it could force a last-minute change to the district's plan.