Region 16 board OKs plan for in-person classes 5 days a week

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Classrooms in Region 16 will have students in them five days a week later this month.

The Region 16 Board of Education on March 24 unanimously approved, with member Erik Dey absent, a plan to open all schools five days per week starting on April 19. The approval came despite a plea from the teachers union to table a decision until further discussion on the impact on teachers.

“I do believe that the students need to be back in school,” board Vice Chairman Robert Hiscox said.

Hiscox, a former teacher and union president, said he supports the teachers and asked administrators to work with them to ease the transition back to classes five days a week.

The region is following a hybrid model. Elementary and middle schools students attend school in-person four days a week. High school students attend in-person two days a week, and distance learn at home online the other three days. All students virtual learn at home on Wednesdays, which are half days.

Starting April 19, elementary and middle school students will return to school full time, five days a week. Woodland Regional High School will continue to follow a hybrid model, though more students will be physically in class more often.

The plan is to split Woodland students into four groups. Three groups — 75% of students — will attend school in-person each day while one group remote learns at home on a rotating basis. Students will be in school three or four days a week, depending on the rotating schedule.

Families also have the option to have their children virtual learn full time. As of last month, there were about 180 students remote learning full time.

In a statement, the Region 16 Education Association implored the board to not move forward with the plan. The statement said teachers have been expected to teach in unprecedented ways this school year, requiring an extraordinary increase in the time necessary to provide for students.

“Everyone understands that it takes time to comply with COVID-19 health and safety protocols and the time needed to address the social-emotional needs of our kids,” the statement said.

“But the change that has brought our faculty to the breaking point is the unexpected and dramatic increase in classroom teacher workload associated with simultaneous remote and in-person teaching. Simply put, ‘dual mode’ teaching, where students are online at the same time the rest of the class is in front of you, creates an untenable and exhausting experience for everyone. It is not just turning on a laptop camera. Teacher workloads at home have doubled during the pandemic and the pace of dual mode learning is not the same as we would normally expect.”

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said, in response to the statement, the region has supported teachers in many ways this school year, including advising them that they did not have to do additional planning for distance learners. Their priority is the students in front of them, he said.

He said the region also allowed teachers to teach in school or from home during remote days and hold parent conferences remotely, while some other districts did not.

“The benefits of having students return to school full time and support a transition back to some type of normalcy, and the ability for students to interact with friends and participate in activities cannot be hindered because of morning and afternoon coverage, the governor’s executive orders to allow for distance learners or our need to change our practice to meet the education environment we are faced with today,” Yamin said.

Board Chairman Priscilla Cretella said she was disappointed in the reaction from teachers.

“Our job is to do what is best for the students, and we’re trying very hard, and one of those ways is putting children back in the classroom,” she said.