U-46 teachers say hybrid learning is causing inequities

  • Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers say hybrid in-person classes are putting teachers at risk and leaving Latino students behind.

    Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers say hybrid in-person classes are putting teachers at risk and leaving Latino students behind. Courtesy of Elgin Area School District U-46

 
 
Updated 1/26/2021 5:38 PM

Teachers in Elgin Area School District U-46 say the district's hybrid learning plan is creating more inequities, especially for Latino students, and not adequately addressing pandemic-related safety concerns.

Latinos comprise 55% of the 37,241 students at the district. They also have been struggling the most as many Hispanic families choose not to send their students to school, Jose Rosa, a teacher at Huff Elementary School in Elgin, told the school board Monday night.

 

U-46 students returned in-person classes this month after being in remote learning mode for much of the fall semester.

"When we started conversations last semester on how to create a hybrid system that can help our students, especially our minorities in need, the idea was for them to return to school. The ironic part is that the Hispanic community decided not to return to school," Rosa said. "Our schools are empty because the community doesn't feel safe, especially the Hispanic community."

Some hybrid classrooms have two to four in-person students, while simultaneously more than 20 students learn remotely, Rosa said.

Scott Sternal, Elgin Teachers Association first vice president who teaches at Abbott Middle School, said employee safety is being compromised, with many teachers forced to teach in-person classes despite seeking accommodations for special circumstances, such as protecting vulnerable family members.

"Over the last month, our teachers have felt replaceable," he said. "Our teachers have felt as though they are not being heard."

Among the problems, Sternal said, is teachers don't completely understand the district's COVID-related contact tracing procedures and policy for sick days.

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School board President Sue Kerr said district leaders are aware of teachers' concerns and welcome the input.

"But we also hear from parents who are very concerned about their kids not being in the classroom so we're trying to balance everything," she added.

Superintendent Tony Sanders said the past two weeks of hybrid classes have been successful.

"It's been a joy to see kids actually following our protocols, masking up," he said. "We actually have returned a few classrooms to distance learning as we committed to do if we have people on quarantine and unable to staff them. We do have several classrooms that are currently being taught remotely."

Employees have had training on the contact tracing process, and resources are posted on the district's intranet site, he added.

ETA President Barb Bettis stressed the district must work with teachers and create "a system to monitor compliance and enforce safety expectations."

"I am asking for true collaboration in order to address the several issues that teachers still confront daily," she said. "And part of that collaboration should include the sharing of data."

That includes how many students are in schools on any given day, stay longer and have lunch in the building, switch from hybrid to distance learning, and the percentage of students and families not completing self certification, she added.

"Without this data we cannot have honest discussions about the state of the hybrid instruction," Bettis said. "There is still confusion as to when should a teacher be notified if someone is suspected of having or has COVID exposure. Communication varies from administrator to administrator, building to building ... not having this clearly defined and communicated at this time adds to the distrust of the current safety situation."

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