As committee shares reopening plans, students concerned by lack of information

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This week, Principal Brian Condon and members of the THHS reopening committee hosted multiple information sessions for students and parents in which they explained their choice of blended learning model for in-person learning this fall. Though the committee recorded attendees’ questions and concerns about reopening in order to provide answers later, multiple attendees said that they left the meetings frustrated by the lack of a detailed plan.   

The committee has selected the Department of Education’s blended learning “Model 3B.” Students who elect to come to school part-time will be divided into three cohorts and attend school for two consecutive school days at a time. Parents and students have until August 7 to commit to an entirely remote first semester if they decide this in-person model does not work for them. Those who choose to attend school part-time will be given the option to switch to remote learning at any time; students who register for remote learning would not be able to switch to in-person learning until “a few specific times during the school year.” Students will receive their programs by August 24.

The reopening committee did not yet address how the school’s curriculum, class offerings, and teaching approach would be adjusted to accommodate this model, or what specific safety regulations and protocols the administration will enforce. The committee plans to release an FAQ based on questions asked at these information sessions early next week. According to Assistant Principal and committee member Ellen Fee, the DOE will release new guidance tonight that should add more clarity to the plans for the fall.

Nonetheless, as the remote registration deadline approaches, several students said that they feel they do not have enough information to commit to either option. 

The meeting was an absolute waste of time. They gave us no information on how remote or hybrid classes would look, only the model,” said rising senior Jaida Boodram. “I want to know how learning is going to look for both options. We have classrooms that don’t even have windows that can open. What is the administration doing to better our ventilation system? Who will teach in person and remotely? Will they even be Townsend teachers? We have no answers, yet they expect us to make [a decision with] a deadline of two weeks.”

“I don’t have a clear picture of what going back to school would look like. I think the messiness of the last semester will follow through for this semester of remote learning. The blended learning models, although they were explained, are still a little confusing,” said rising senior Katie Hsu. 

Other students expressed concerns about maintaining social distancing in hallways, the difference in quality of education between students studying remotely and those attending school, the safety of traveling to school via public transportation, and how lunch and extracurriculars would function.  

Committee members said that the lack of information stems from a general absence of specifics coming from the DOE.

“The unfortunate part is that I don’t think parents have enough information to make an informed decision about which would be more effective because we have no information. We’re doing all we can to get answers to pretty obvious questions and the Department of Education is offering no guidance,” said UFT Chapter Leader and committee member Kevin McDonaugh.

“We too have a lot of questions surrounding what safety regulations and protocols the school will put into place, and how we will ensure the same quality of education for students studying remotely and in person,” said Ms. Fee.

Furthermore, Mr. McDonaugh said that many committee members feel their efforts would be better spent developing a more refined remote learning model for the fall semester. 

“Without federal fiscal assistance, I do not see how it will be possible to open school safely at all, which is why I believe it is prudent and reasonable to start planning for a remote learning launch in the fall,” said former UFT Chapter Leader and member of the reopening committee Franco Scardino.

Following the meeting, Coordinator of Student Activities and committee member Sarah Loew sent an email to all THHS students and parents with links to forms where they could continue to ask questions about blended learning models, instruction, health and safety, social and emotional wellness, and transportation. 

The administration plans to address these concerns more specifically in its upcoming FAQ, which, according to Ms. Fee, they hope to release early next week.