Teachers and parents are harshly criticizing the York Region District School Board for implementing a hybrid learning model, in which a single teacher simultaneously teaches students in class and online. The model was introduced despite growing concerns that it will hurt student learning and leave educators in a bind.
The added stress is also taking a toll on teachers, with some saying they end their work days in tears.
“I’ve never seen teacher morale so low,” said Sarah Gibson-Neve, a kindergarten teacher under the YRDSB, who has 25 students in class and four students in line.
“People are so overwhelmed,” he said.
While several school boards have also implemented hybrid learning amid similar concerns, the YRDSB, Ontario’s third-largest board, is the only one in the province to include it at the elementary level, posing a unique set of challenges. For teachers of younger students, as you try to instruct children at home and in the classroom at the same time.
Shortcomings in the learning model also run against the board’s commitment to equity in the classroom, said Rob Chodos, second-grade teacher at Teston Village Public School in Vaughan.
Chodos said the model means that many children online must complete worksheets, which does not lead to proper education or creative thinking, while students in the classroom engage in more dynamic learning. Racialized students, who are most affected by inequalities in education, will lag further behind under this model, he added, as barriers linked to racism they already face in the classroom are exacerbated.
“There is nothing about [hybrid] that promotes more fairness, or even begins to allow him to adopt these lenses that they ask us to adopt, because he is so busy with the hybrid and the division, “he said.
“It doesn’t allow you to move on to make school a more positive place for everyone.”
Criticisms of the hybrid model date back to the fall of 2020, when it was first introduced at some school boards amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as Ontario grappled with shifts between in-person and virtual learning. With most of the students returning to the classroom this fall, several teachers within the YRDSB told the Star that the model has been a logistical nightmare, where teachers are left struggling, going from classroom to classroom, trying to locate the right equipment. for hybrid learning and for making the system, which they have deemed ineffective, work.
Parents have also contacted Star to share their concerns.
Veteran teachers on the York board said they are ending their workday in tears, concerned about how hybrid learning is affecting both children’s education and mental well-being. Some have even taken extended leaves of absence due to the stress of teaching under a hybrid model.
“When you listen [about the] hybrid model in mid-August and I knew they weren’t going to take it from me, I said ‘I can’t do this,’ ”said a YRDSB teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from her board. Since then, the teacher has been away indefinitely for stress-related health reasons.
“I didn’t sleep and I still don’t sleep when I’m away,” said the teacher. “I couldn’t go back.”
The Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation in the York Region, which represents elementary teachers at YRDSB, is strongly against the hybrid learning model.
Teachers cannot give students the attention they deserve if they are teaching in class and online simultaneously, said Tui-Sem Won, president of the ETFO-York Region.
Some lessons may work well for both groups, but many do not and will make learning difficult for students online, he said.
“There is a lot of inequality in the scheduling and teachers are struggling to find ways to include everyone,” he said.
For its part, the union has opposed the model from the beginning and Won said it is disappointing to see it return at all grades. A fully virtual school at least allows lessons to be targeted at that group, while hybrid learning does not, he added.
Other major boards in the province, including the Toronto District School Board, have implemented the hybrid system at the high school level and are receiving setbacks. TO petition launched This month by parents, students and education workers within the board, including groups like Ontario Parent Action Network and Ontario Education Workers United, outlines concerns about hybrid learning. It asks that students have the option of being completely in person or completely online, and they eliminate the possibility of a hybrid in either area.
The TDSB said in a statement that “concurrent” learning is only being implemented in a “limited” number of circumstances at the primary level and at the secondary level so that students can “access a full range of courses.”
Implementing an “alternative model” would have delayed the school year, the board said.
School boards must prioritize the best way for students to learn, and it’s clear that the hybrid model isn’t what works best, said Shameela Shakeel, York Communities co-chair for public education and also a parent of students on the York public board. York.
“It’s not just about headsets and webcams. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the children at home are not really connected to the classrooms. There is a big disconnect, “he said.
Shakeel said he created a Google form to get parent-teacher feedback on hybrids, and said it has already received more than 500 responses. He said that some of the teachers’ anecdotes were powerful. One said: “We are overwhelmed. We go home and cry every day. “
She said parents are heartbroken to see how lonely the hybrid system has made their children. “It’s like they were an afterthought. And they can feel that. “
Shakeel said that YRDSB’s reasons for opting for the hybrid model include keeping children connected to their rightful school and giving families the flexibility to move from the face-to-face to the hybrid experience. The board has also said that budget constraints prevented an online-only program.
How can other boards of similar size like Durham and Peel have a virtual school? she asked.
Speaking to the Star, the YRDSB said that the hybrid model allows flexibility, especially if a student needs to isolate himself due to exposure to COVID-19. Students who need to spend a period of time at home to self-quarantine will still be able to connect to their classrooms from home with the hybrid model, the board said.
“Another consideration is that virtual schools are very expensive to run. Unlike last year, the Ministry of Education has not provided additional funds to operate separate virtual schools, ”the board added.
To prepare for back to school, teachers were invited to professional learning sessions that included support around the hybrid model. There are also online resources for teachers within the board’s internal site, according to the board.
Additionally, the board said it consulted with teachers’ unions and parents and that flexibility was the top priority for families. While asking for patience during the transition to hybrid learning, he has established a hotline for teachers experiencing technical issues and believes the challenges will be resolved as implementation continues.
But Gibson-Neve, a York board teacher, said concerns have been raised about the hybrid model several times over the summer. Ultimately, he said he understands the board’s reasoning for implementing it, but wants teachers’ concerns about the fairness of the hybrid model to be concretely addressed.
“If you really feel that this is the best way to do it, [should] sit with us, hear what our concerns are and address them, ”he said, adding that key decisions about pandemic education have not been made in consultation with staff who have day-to-day classroom experience.
Mother Zaheera Dhanani told the Star that she specifically put her son, who is in the eighth grade, in in-person learning because of concerns about the hybrid model.
“Hybrid learning is unfair to both teachers and students,” he said. “[There are] technical issues, security issues, lack of focus on the part of teachers and students trying to navigate in class and online, not to mention the decline in the way our teachers are about to teach. What about quality education? “
He said there has been a lack of transparency from the board on why this model is in place and how it plans to support students and educators in the future. He said his questions to the trustees and the board have gone unanswered.
“They need to take a non-partisan approach to public education and step up and really do the work that a public education board is obligated to do,” Dhanani said.