Electives no longer at risk as remote learning opt-ins reach 83%

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This evening, Principal Brian Condon announced that 83% of students have now gone remote, meaning that electives are no longer in danger of being cut. This follows a push by parents, alumni, teachers and students to urge the student body to go remote after news broke that without additional teachers, over fifty classes stood to be cut from the program. This past week, students have debated opting for complete remote learning in an effort to avoid the cuts. 

Last Thursday, Mr. Condon held an online faculty meeting and shared that electives were at risk of being cut with teachers and staff. He explained in a letter sent to the school community on Friday that in this meeting, he discussed the school’s programming model, Model 3B, “the guidelines for staffing this model, and its impact on teacher and student schedules.” In the letter, Mr. Condon also shared that he requested 36 additional teachers, who are necessary to cover up to 185 class sections required by the blended learning plan, “but has yet to hear a response.” Two weeks ago, The Classic reported on updated guidance that could lead to classes being cut without additional teachers

UFT Chapter Leader Kevin McDonaugh said that he felt it seemed unlikely that the DOE would be able to fill the teacher shortage. “Were THHS the only school to have such demand, there would be no problem; but this is citywide,” said Mr. McDonaugh in an email to The Classic. “This is coming at a time when the city says it might need to layoff 9,000 teachers. We [are] simultaneously [being] told that we need more teachers and that we will have teachers taken away. The only conclusion one can draw is that that gap in need for teaching power cannot be fulfilled.”

Soon after the meeting, several THHS teachers spread the news to current and past students. Alumni and students alike quickly took to their social media platforms to raise awareness of the possible changes Mr. Condon described and to encourage their peers to switch to remote learning. 

Mr. Condon has since held an information session with parents. There he confirmed that up to 15 math electives, 18 science electives, 19 language electives, 10 English electives (including the freshman year Writing Process program), and all social studies electives would have been cut unless the majority of the school opts for remote instruction. With 83% now remote, that is now no longer a concern, according to Mr. Condon’s email.

Student Union Vice President Ali Boivab said, “The Student Union (SU) found out about the possibility of elective cuts from a teacher who was deeply concerned about the dire consequences before Mr. Condon made any official comments to us.” 

Since then, the SU, Parent Teacher Association, and Townsend Harris Alumni Association published a letter “in a coordinated effort to get the remote opt-in to 80%,” which would relieve the demand for resources. 

Science teacher Joel Heitman had reached out to recent THHS alumni about the issue, after he heard the news during Thursday’s faculty meeting. “I believe that sometimes the alumni have a greater network to contacting students, and they also have experience with the courses that they have taken at THHS, so they can emphasize the importance of the electives and why taking the more difficult pathway would still be the way that would benefit most students,” Mr. Heitman said.

Along with many other seniors, Joyce Zheng has already finished her “core classes, so I am left with lots of elective classes which are the AP classes I chose. Without the AP classes, I am put in a disadvantageous place compared to other high schoolers who may have more AP classes than I do. Plus, AP classes help me gain college credits [and] without them it will be hard to save money.”

“Senior year was really the only year I could take more APs than required. Without the classes, my course load may be seen as ‘easy’ in the eyes of a college,” senior Madison Bitna agreed.

Many students took this as a sign to change their instruction mode. “I was originally going to do blended [instruction],” Joyce said. “But after I heard that classes will be cut …I changed to remote instruction.”

Social studies teacher Chris Hackney stated in an interview that “from my understanding of what has been presented to me, the closest we can get to a “normal” THHS providing its usual selection of classes and educational rigour with classes taught by Townsend Harris teachers, is for us to go all virtual or as close to all virtual as possible.”

Co-President of the PTA Executive Board Bill Rettig was hopeful about the unity displayed. “The PTA is pleased that our school now has a united front.  We joined forces with our SU [and] the [THHS] Alumni Association in a coordinated effort to get the remote opt-in to 80%.”

In his letter from last Friday, Mr. Condon communicated that “each family must make the decision that is in the best interest of their child, and no family should feel pressured to choose a model that does not work for them.” Mr. Heitman said, “This is a student choice, a family choice.”

With school set to open full time on September 21, students and teachers now await receiving their programs for the year.