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Rochester City School District teachers balk at hybrid plan 

click to enlarge The campus of Benjamin Franklin High School.

PHOTO BY JAMES BROWN / WXXI NEWS

The campus of Benjamin Franklin High School.

Rochester Teachers Association leader Adam Urbanksi is urging the district to pause in-person instruction as part of a hybrid learning approach until teachers are given a “coherent” plan how to do it.

“Because they’re being asked to perform tasks that are simply not doable,” said Urbanski.

In a recent survey, roughly 89 percent of teachers, who are expected to return to school buildings in February, agreed with him. The union’s assembly passed a measure Tuesday making the same request, which Urbanski emailed to Rochester City School District leadership that night.

Hybrid learning plans have become a common way for school districts to enforce physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It varies per district, but in most cases, one group of students learn at home on some days, while others go to school buildings, and then they alternate on other days.

A few hundred city school students in specialized programs are attending school  in person now, with thousands more expected next month. Roughly a quarter of all students opted into the program, while all other students remain remote.

Urbanski said the district, wary of spreading COVID-19, will not allow students to bring Chromebooks to class. He said this is a problem because access to a device is necessary as part of the district’s hybrid plan.

The plan calls for teachers to instruct online and in-person classes simultaneously. He said it's difficult to begin with, but gets tougher without SMART boards, which he said are needed to monitor students' screens and provide instruction.

“You cannot have your eye on, let's say, 30 separate Chromebooks, while teaching the students in front of you,” said Urbanski. “You need to have a SMART board and a screen so everything can be projected.

“The district does not have the sufficient Chromebooks or technology, computers, Wi-Fi, for students to actually continue learning effectively,” he continued.

Another concern for the union is out of the district’s hands: COVID-19 vaccinations,  of which Monroe County currently has a low supply. Urbanski said some teachers are going as far as Syracuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to going back into classrooms. He said that further in-person instruction should be put on hold until the vaccines are more widely available and other concerns are addressed.

“If our superintendent and our board of education ignores the collective wisdom of teachers, they run the risk of losing the confidence of those teachers,” said Urbanski.

Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small issued a statement on the union's position:

"The District has released its reopening plan and will continue with offering both hybrid/in-person and remote options for learning. We also acknowledge and understand that there are varied viewpoints on whether schools should reopen or not. We have heard from students, parents, teachers, and staff who want our schools open, and we have data from our medical professionals indicating that schools are safe.

With every other district in Monroe County already reopened, it concerns me that the Rochester Teachers Association is leading the charge to keep schools closed for City scholars who face significant educational disparities. Our team has been working tirelessly to ensure our buildings are ready and set up to follow social distancing guidelines. We have sufficient PPE supplies for students and staff, and we are working closely with the County Health Department and the State to ensure that we are compliant with all regulatory changes. Today, there is also news of a parent group demanding that all schools in Monroe County be reopened. We are facing some of the most trying times in the history of our District, and we remain steadfast to our commitment to maintaining students as the priority in any decisions we make."

James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.
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