Lake­land stu­dents to re­turn on hy­brid ba­sis mid-oc­to­ber

The Times-Tribune - - LOCAL - BY JEFF HOR­VATH STAFF WRITER

Lake­land stu­dents will re­turn to class­rooms on a hy­brid ba­sis in mid-oc­to­ber, though the district will con­tinue of­fer­ing an ex­clu­sively on­line op­tion for fam­i­lies with coro­n­avirus con­cerns.

Meet­ing vir­tu­ally Thurs­day, the Lake­land School Board voted 8-0 to tran­si­tion to the hy­brid learn­ing model Oct. 13. A pair of ear­lier mo­tions — one to con­tinue with on­line-only learn­ing through Nov. 2, and an­other to tran­si­tion to the hy­brid model Oct. 5 — were re­jected by the board.

Lake­land is one of five Lack­awanna County school dis­tricts that started the school year ex­clu­sively on­line amid the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Board mem­ber John Yanochik did not par­tic­i­pate in the vir­tual meet­ing.

Un­der the hy­brid model, all stu­dents who opt to phys­i­cally re­turn to school will re­ceive two full days of in-per­son in­struc­tion per week. Stu­dents in “Group A” will learn in class­rooms on Mon­days and Tues­days, while stu­dents in “Group B” will do so on Thurs­days and Fri­days. Wed­nes­days will serve as an in­de­pen­dent learn­ing day and stu­dents will par­tic­i­pate in live vir­tual ses­sions when their group isn’t phys­i­cally in school.

The vote fol­lowed more than two hours of dis­cus­sion where board mem­bers re­viewed the re­sults of a fac­ulty sur­vey, ques­tioned ad­min­is­tra­tors and lis­tened to 179 sub­mit­ted public com­ments read aloud. The ma­jor­ity of public com­ments en­dorsed a re­turn to class­rooms on a hy­brid ba­sis, but many com­menters ar­gued stu­dents should con­tinue learn­ing on­line in the in­ter­est of safety and con­sis­tency.

“Younger stu­dents are strug­gling,” Car­bon­dale Twp. res­i­dent Justin Roberts ar­gued in a sub­mit­ted com­ment. “Tech­nol­ogy is fail­ing. Please bring the chil­dren back to school where they can learn . ... Please don’t push the date back.”

The fac­ulty sur­vey re­sults, shared by district Cur­ricu­lum Direc­tor Marian Car­roll, showed a ma­jor­ity of teach­ers wanted to re­main on­line or at least had con­cerns about tran­si­tion­ing to hy­brid learn­ing. Only 18.81% of teach­ers dis­trictwide an­swered they were ready to re­turn in a hy­brid model, though Car­roll said that num­ber was higher, 27.6%, among ele­men­tary level teach­ers whose stu­dents may find vir­tual learn­ing more chal­leng­ing.

The Lake­land Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion sub­mit­ted a let­ter ob­ject­ing to a hy­brid tran­si­tion in the near fu­ture. An in­ter­nal poll con­ducted by the teach­ers union found that 85% of mem­bers pre­ferred the con­tin­u­a­tion of on­line-only ed­u­ca­tion, per the let­ter.

“Many fac­ulty and staff have med­i­cal con­di­tions that put them at risk of con­tract­ing the most se­vere cases of COVID-19,” the union ar­gued in the let­ter. “Our stu­dents, staff, com­mu­nity and fam­i­lies will be at an in­creased risk for the con­trac­tion of the COVID-19 virus.”

Reached af­ter the meet­ing, board Pres­i­dent Mark Solomon said both the union and the many par­ents who im­plored the district to open its doors raised valid points. The board ul­ti­mately had to de­cide what is in the best in­ter­est of Lake­land stu­dents, he said.

“It was a tough de­ci­sion,” Solomon said. “In my mind, I say this all the time, there’s no bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion ... than when a teacher is stand­ing in front of a child. And if we can pro­vide that as an op­por­tu­nity ... then gen­er­ally the ed­u­ca­tion ex­cels from there.”

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