Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 3

Las Lomas Teachers Speak Out on Online, Hybrid Learning

Graphic by Jackie Veliz

Since March 2020, Las Lomas High School and other schools in the Acalanes Union High School District have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most learning is occurring online, except for vulnerable groups recently allowed to return to camps in small groups. However, this large-scale closure may end on January 5, 2020, when, per a vote of the AUHSD Governing Board, AUHSD schools will reopen on a hybrid learning basis (see Pages 6-7 for more details on this plan), assuming that State guidelines allow Contra Costa County to reopen schools by then, which as of the time of writing is currently not the case.

National and local media outlets (including The Page) have extensively discussed the effects of both online and hybrid learning – two highly heterodox methods of teaching before the COVID-19 pandemic – on parents and students. Less-discussed has been another critical stakeholder in schools and in this learning model: teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic and online/hybrid learning.

Notwithstanding, numerous Las Lomas teachers have strong views on online and hybrid learning, both positive and negative. Kerry Ginsberg, a Human and Social Development and English teacher at Las Lomas, is one such teacher. At Governing Board meetings and in an interview with The Page, Ginsberg has been a critic of the hybrid learning model. While she supports the limited reopenings that have taken place this fall (see Pages 6-7 for more details), she opposes the Governing Board’s plans for a large-scale hybrid reopening in early January. In a letter to the Governing Board, she stated her belief that “a hybrid model as discussed will not ‘fix’ problems regarding isolation, mental health, and quality instructional time.”

Ginsberg believes that “[the] amount of peer interaction and collaboration…while also adhering to requirements for masking and social distancing…is quite minimal,” and that “a hybrid model will not solve the isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges being faced by our students,” arguing that “students forced to ‘opt out’ of the hybrid model…will feel more isolated and depressed than ever,” and that “our school will likely have to shut down at some point…due to positive cases, large student gatherings, or staff shortages, creating even more chaos.”

Ginsberg commented that, as a mother whose “son is doing kindergarten on Zoom,” she understands parents’ dissatisfaction with distance learning, however she believes “a hybrid model…would be far worse.” 

Other teachers interviewed by The Page agreed with Ginsberg’s opposition to a large-scale reopening. Like Ginsberg, Sarah Herring, a PE teacher at Las Lomas, supports adding more small groups to campus, and opposes the large-scale hybrid model: “‘benefits’ that the board thinks they are giving students by going hybrid, are going to drastically fall short of their expectations,” where we will be “losing instructional minutes and…seeing our students even less.”

Herring is also a mother with a son who “is being homeschooled this year because I felt it was our best option,” which she said “absolutely” affected her position on transitioning to a hybrid model, saying that she “can’t expect a nanny I hire to homeschool my child and watch the other.” She expects “childcare will be an absolute nightmare come January.”

Lisa Amaro, a Spanish teacher at Las Lomas and mother of three aged six, twelve, and fifteen – all of whom, like her, have asthma – had agreements and disagreements with Herring’s sentiments. While she “[believes] more learning will take place if schools reopen,” she also raised concerns about hybrid learning. Her concerns focus around her first grader’s schedule and the idea of hybrid school that will make it nearly impossible for her to return to work; later, she added that, “based on current events of the virus surge,  I’m less likely to send even my own freshman back to campus… [and] my other two children will stay in full distance learning”. Jami Greer, an English teacher at Las Lomas, more stridently favored reopening, saying that “life must resume for the mental and economic health of our community,” and that while schools should “give grace to those who can’t fully come back due to health issues…for those who can and want to, the option should be there,” although she later said that “with data trending the way it is now, I can’t imagine we will be going back on time.”

In keeping with mixed sentiment regarding reopening, all teachers interviewed also presented mixed emotions regarding online school. In her letter to the Governing Board, Ginsberg said for her “distance-learning classes are going surprisingly well…[and] my students feel connected to me…and…find our class valuable,” but that there are “many challenges with distance learning for students (and believe me, the same goes for staff!).”

Herring said that she has “been so pleasantly surprised with some of the student connections I have been able to make!” but that “it goes without saying that online PE will never be as effective a course as it is in person.” Greer echoed some feelings of student engagement, saying that “some students are engaged and participate. Students are turning in work on time and working hard,” but that online school is making her teach more slowly: “I am usually in the middle of teaching my second novel. I’m in the middle of my first novel.”

Amaro said that “it is hard to really know when kids understand the grammar concepts, when I can only observe via screens, a language is best learned in person, on a daily basis, none of the virtual scenarios is ideal, [and students’] learning is what they make of it. Some are engaged, and some are not.”

Peat Sutherland, a member of the Acalanes Education Association Representative Council, declined to comment for this piece. Other members of the AEA Representative Council and the AEA’s President did not respond to requests for comment.