To Protect At-Risk People, GDS Should Offer Hybrid Option

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

On Dec. 31, High School Principal Katie Gibson announced in an email to both students and parents that GDS remains firm in its decision to continue in-person schooling without a hybrid option. Gibson wrote, “Hybrid teaching is less effective than either fully virtual or fully in-person.”

During the second week of the semester, the school imposed a slight modification: Students who contract COVID have the option to watch class over Zoom, without the ability to interact with the class. 

The school is taking a step in the right direction by not forcing students with COVID to miss ten days of classes, but it is not enough. Students who simply feel unsafe or wish to protect their immunocompromised family members are excluded from the virtual option unless they contract the virus. Students who do have COVID are further isolated from their classes when they are unable to collaborate with their peers over Zoom.

Admittedly, hybrid learning last year was very frustrating. When GDS announced its decision for a fully in-person 2021-2022 school year, I, among many others, was very excited. As community members began receiving vaccinations, the number of COVID cases in the D.C. area declined, providing all the more reason to go fully in person.

Unfortunately, circumstances have drastically changed. Since the emergence of the Omicron variant, COVID numbers have increased at GDS and throughout D.C. Even though a vast majority of vaccinated individuals will experience only mild symptoms, if any at all, it’s important to understand that COVID still poses a serious threat to high-risk members of the GDS community. The school has a responsibility to keep students safe and make education accessible to everyone. Giving students the option of hybrid learning is the best, albeit not perfect, solution. 

Take students with preexisting medical conditions: If they attend school, they are at a higher risk for contracting COVID, and thus more likely to encounter potentially life-threatening complications. If they stay home, they are forced to sacrifice their education simply to stay safe. 

Freshman Caroline Gann, who is high-risk, said in-person learning is an accessibility issue. She described the absence of a hybrid option as “really frustrating.”

For students with immunocompromised family members, attending school means putting their loved ones at risk. Junior Zaira Chowdury is living with her grandmother,  who has a life-threatening lung disease, and wants a hybrid option so she can protect her health. 

“People deserve to make that consideration and deal with it themselves,” Chowdury said of remote learning. Last year, she only attended school over Zoom. “I sat through it for an entire year, and it sucked, but I did it because I needed to.” 

Students like Chowdury, who already worry about their loved ones’ health, have to deal with the added burden that their decision to attend school could have devastating consequences for their at-risk family members.

A virtual option for everyone will mean that students who suspect they have COVID won’t feel compelled to attend school because of pressures to not miss class. Senior Leah Belber said GDS students often feel like the consequences of missing school are much worse than the risk of coming in sick.

 “There’s very much a culture of just always coming to school, because missing class would be catastrophic,” Belber told me. “To not have an option for kids at home just seems a little bit ridiculous.”

Since Jan. 10, some teachers have been filming their classes or letting students join a Zoom without an option to interact with the class. Students who cannot attend classes in person should still be able to interact with their classmates, and be given the opportunity to have as best a learning experience as possible. 

“I like to participate,” junior Asha Adiga-Biro explained. “I need to ask questions all the time, and just having a recording isn’t probably the easiest thing.” 

Hybrid learning is not ideal by any means: Teachers need to find a way to accommodate both virtual and in-person students, and it’s harder for students to stay engaged over Zoom. But however inconvenient a hybrid model would be, no one should have to decide between their education and their health.

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