The York Region District School Board’s own staff strongly objected to the implementation of a controversial and rarely used hybrid learning model for elementary schools, saying it would be “harmful” to students and families and marginalized students. will leave behind.
Sources also told the Star in an internal report from staff to senior leaders that five Ontario school boards, which had previously used a hybrid system — in which teachers direct students online and in person simultaneously — to the York board “strongly discourage” from pursuing the model for its primary schools.
But soon after submitting their report in May, employees were informed that a decision to proceed with the hybrid model had already been made, leading them to wonder if any of their work had been considered by board leadership.
“A major decision regarding teaching and learning across the board was made without the expertise of those who are experts in learning and teaching. So, with whom did he consult?” asked a board source, speaking on condition of anonymity, to discuss internal matters.
There is increasing anger among parents and teachers over the board’s decision to implement the hybrid system at the primary school level. Parents had the option of choosing between distance learning or in-person classes at the start of the year, but essentially, all classes are now hybrids as individual teachers juggle teaching children in the classroom and at home.
Markham’s parent Michael Chen said the online experience for their two children has been fraught with technical problems and forced them to become “at-home teachers’ assistants.”
Teachers on the board – the third largest in the province – also say they are overwhelmed, experiencing irritation and often shed tears as they try to navigate what they call an “unstable” teaching model. He says that despite his best efforts, there is a shortage of online students, a situation that prompted the board to schedule an already unplanned professional development training session next week, to help allay the frustration Can you
All primary teachers on the board were forced to adjust to the change. About 15 percent of elementary students – about 12,600 – are attending remotely.
The hybrid model was first introduced to some school boards in the fall of 2020, as the province tried to cope with the transition between in-person and virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this term, some boards continue to use the hybrid model, but only at the high school level.
At the York board, both teachers and parents say their complaints to senior staff and trustees remain unanswered, as do questions about how and why the executive council – made up of a handful of people – had opted for a learning model for young students. Rejected by other school boards in the province.
“All possible solutions were explored by senior staff members,” said York board spokesman Licinio Miguelo. “Given the feedback from families to ensure flexibility … the decision was made in the best interest of the students.”
But board sources said Star’s central staff was never advised that their recommendations had been considered by the senior team, which included offering an alternative to the hybrid model.
“In May 2021 we were asked to review the boards’ experiences with the Hybrid … and the findings came back so sharply against the Hybrid,” a source said on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “We were confident that our findings and recommendations would be shared with senior leaders.”
“The board continues to leverage all available resources to inform and implement decisions in the best interest of students. This includes consultation on possible learning models,” Miguelo said.
Five weeks into the school year, cracks are beginning to appear in what critics have called the board’s ill-conceived plan.
Last week, the board announced an additional Professional Development Day on October 15 for employees to “feel supported in implementing the hybrid model.” According to a staff memo obtained by Star, the session will rely on a significant amount of teacher-to-teacher training, with the board “encouraging hybrid teachers to facilitate learning opportunities on this day”.
When the school year began, teachers were given no training on the hybrid model and were left to figure it out on their own, says Raymond Leung, a grade 2-3 teacher.
The board purchased thousands of headsets and webcams for teachers to “support” the implementation of hybrid learning. “He basically gave each teacher one of each and said ‘good luck’,” Leung said.
He said that the announcement of training now seems too little, too late.
“They have mentors to help with training, but mentors can’t do that training because they’re not in the classroom and they don’t know how it works,” Leung said. “So, once again, it’s falling on the teachers’ shoulders.”
Leung noted that teachers were not consulted in any way before making the hybrid decision. “The board has been extremely disrespectful to its employees through this entire process,” he said.
Markham’s parents Chen said the start of the school year for their daughters — Chloe, 6, and Clara, 4, — was “chaotic.” Now, a month later, they say that the hybrid learning model they are enrolled in is not sustainable.
Her kids are a little shy. At times, some of his teachers get too busy managing the kids in the classroom and walk away from the screen, leaving Chen’s kids wondering what to do next.
“All of a sudden there’s no teacher. And the kids will be like, ‘Dad, what should I do?’ And I’d be like, ‘Okay, based on your learning material, I think you need to do this.’ So I’m finally becoming more of a teacher’s assistant,” said Chen, a 37-year-old Federal Public Service worker.
Chen observed some classrooms and found that teachers were struggling with Google Classroom tasks; Sometimes videos played without sound, or presentation slides didn’t work properly. The built-in camera on Chromebooks captures images in such low resolution that kids can’t see the letters on the screen, and sometimes, internet connectivity issues at school cause virtual classes to start late.
He says the hybrid learning model is a downgrade from last year’s virtual learning program, where all students in a class were learning remotely.
“It’s certainly worth noting that teachers are still struggling.”
Tui-Sem Won, president of the York Region Unit of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, said the upcoming training will do nothing to address the mental health and well-being of students and staff “suffering” under the hybrid model.
“This is not exactly the YRDSB response that teachers are looking for. Teachers want the hybrid model to end immediately.” Won said that last June, the union presented the board with a list of more than 5,000 concerns about the teacher-learning model, which was about 1,500. presented by the members.
The board said the big reason for the hybrid model was to allow for flexibility, especially if a student needs to be isolated due to COVID-19 risk. The second was to keep costs down by running a separate online school, as they did last year.
“The province has not allocated an envelope of funds to build a separate virtual school. The funding received by the hybrid model is within the envelope,” said board spokesman Miguelo.
The board has yet to share its financial information with the public and trustees, comparing the cost of a separate online school to the new hybrid model. The board also did not respond to questions about how other boards – such as Peel and the public boards in Toronto – have managed to avoid hybrid learning and continue to have a separate primary online program given similar budget limitations. Both the boards are offering hybrid classes at the high school level, but have avoided it at the primary level.
In the executive council report seen by STAR, central staff had offered the board the option of hybrid learning such as holding all online students in a grade or school together (as opposed to having children online in every class). Or even linking together all the distance learners from area schools – getting enough kids to fill an online class.
The report also expressed concerns that implementing a hybrid model would force the board to ignore priorities such as its anti-black racism strategy and plans to support weaker and underperforming students, as Resources have to be moved to support hybrids.
Parent Manisha Mistry said the recently announced training by the board for teachers is further proof that the hybrid model is bad.
“There were so many ways they could have made the right decisions,” Mistry said, adding that his daughter in Class 2 is virtually the only daughter to learn. “But they made the worst decision – and now we are all living through this difficult year.
“Even at this point, they can change it (to an online-only school) and save the year,” she said.
Shamila Shakeel, co-chair of the advocacy group York Communities for Public Education, which has been closely following Hybrid Debate, says the board ignored the advice of its own staff, which is disappointing, but surprising. Not there.
“It’s very disappointing because all the other boards that were doing hybrids last year are not this year,” she said. “They all know it’s not a good model for anyone, for teachers or students.”
“And we also know that there are other learning options out there, and there are experts out there to help us. It doesn’t make any sense why they chose this learning model,” she said.