Back To Full In-Person Learning: To Be Or Not To Be?

by Elpidio Estioko

Despite the omicron surge, public schools all over the country will be back in the classrooms for in-person instruction this week in preparation for the full in-person learning by next school year this fall.

How did teachers react to this announcement? As I See It, they are in a dilemma as to whether to go back to school or not. In fact, it generated mixed emotions – some favor it, others do not.

In my case, aside from the safety factor, I prefer working at home rather than teaching in my classroom with 15 to 20 students, some in person and others online, at the same time.

I say this because if I must report in school, I need to teach using the hybrid approach, addressing both types of students (in-person and online) simultaneously, unlike when I teach purely online, I just have to deal with one type of students – virtual students.

To manage it effectively, we need to find a way to keep the students in the classroom busy while attending to online students and vice versa.

When you are attending to online students, you need to give students in class assignments and keep them busy and when it is time for those students in class to be addressed, online students are likewise given their assignments to keep them, engaged.

The situation is easier said than done, but it can be done. It is just that we need to plan it properly, be alert in the execution and be flexible in the process.

It would be easier if you have the same set of students the entire day (same students per period just like the public schools). But if your students are different in every block (students in charter schools are designed that way), then it would be extremely hard to make the adjustments.

Besides, you need to contend with your own safety while attending to the safety of your students. A colleague of mine told me that when they started accepting students in the dorms, and conducted campus activities, 10 staff and nine students were found positive after the event.

They immediately conducted mitigation measures and implemented contact tracing then they placed staff and students who were in contact with those found positive on a seven-day quarantine.

In Hawaii, as more residents get vaccinated and restrictions ease on public gatherings and other precautions, the Hawaii State Department of Education says all Hawaii public schools will fully reopen for in-person learning next school year.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced the decision in a memo to principals last week and a similar message was sent to all staff last week.

The superintendent wrote:

“Our schools play a critical role in providing students a safe learning space for social connections and cognitive and personal development. Therefore, for the school year 2021-2022 scheduled to begin on August 3, 2021, the expectation is that all HIDOE schools will be fully open for daily, in-person learning. This also includes resuming co-curricular and extracurricular activities such as clubs, band, and athletics at all schools.”

This approach means that schools will not offer a full-distance learning model as an alternative to in-person learning, the DOE’s memo stated. Distance learning may be an option if schools must close due to unexpected emergencies or other student-focused circumstances.

Kishimoto also emphasized that mitigation protocols will remain in place, such as directing students and staff to stay home when sick, consistent mask-wearing, and proper hand hygiene.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said they support the idea of bringing students back fully, however, they still have some concerns.

We just want to make sure it is safe, and we still just have the concern about how many parents or students are going to feel safe to come back as well, and we hope to encourage them that our classrooms will be safe when we do want our students back in the classroom,” said Rosenlee.She further emphasized the need for the community to get everyone vaccinated: for both teachers and students to be vaccinated to “create some sort of herd immunity.”

“One of the important things during this entire pandemic, HSTA has often said we need to follow the science, and Dr. Fauci has just said recently that he wants to encourage, but not mandate, that K–12 students get the vaccination. So, if that is what Dr. Fauci saying, that is our position, and we need to encourage it,” Rosenlee said.

At least there is one consolation the teachers need to rejoice and ponder upon. The US Department of Education released “Return to School Roadmap” for 2021-2022 school year to support students, schools, educators, and communities as they prepare to return to safe, healthy in-person learning this fall.

The Roadmap provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning.

The Department of Education said the Roadmap includes three “landmark” priorities that schools, districts, and communities are encouraged to focus on to ensure all students are set up for success in the 2021-2022 school year.

These include: (1) prioritizing the health and safety of students, staff, and educators, (2) building school communities and supporting students’ social, emotional, and mental health, and (3) accelerating academic achievement.

Part of the Roadmap, the Department will release resources for practitioners and parents on each of these priorities and will highlight schools and districts that are using innovative practices to address these priorities.

So, are we going back to school this fall?

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author:

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