Catholic school board moves to hybrid learning mode for all schools, citing COVID-19 lessons learned

“We have an obligation to meet the needs of our families who want to make changes to their mode of learning, but we must do so in a way that is feasible and sustainable.” – Interim Director of Education, Catherine McCullough

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The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board is introducing a new hybrid model of learning for elementary and secondary students in all of its schools.
According to the board, the model will blend face-to-face learners with virtual learners in the same class, under the direction of the homeschool classroom teacher. This hybrid model was also previously introduced for secondary schools, beginning Nov. 12. The elementary system kicks in Nov. 23.
“Offering two different models of education, in-class and online, was new for everyone. Now that we are almost two months into our reality, we have learned what works well and what needs to be adjusted. The bottom line is that our current virtual school model is not sustainable,” said Interim Director of Education, Catherine McCullough.
“We have an obligation to meet the needs of our families who want to make changes to their mode of learning, but we must do so in a way that is feasible and sustainable in the long-term. This model will make it easier for students to return to in-class learning.”
In an email to parents and guardians, McCullough detailed the rational for the change.
Sustainability and Stability: We cannot currently accommodate the high volume of requests (close to 700) to switch from in-class to virtual learning and vice-versa. In addition, we are not able to adequately staff our virtual school, which currently has more than 3,300 students. This hybrid model relieves these pressures.
Regardless of whether or not we move to the hybrid model, we have to restructure all of our elementary schools in order to accommodate the requests to switch modes of learning. Moving to the hybrid model will provide stability until the end of June so that we don’t have to restructure classes again in January and April (which are the two other previously established transition dates).
Continuity of Learning and Home School Connections: When the need arises, i.e., COVID symptoms or self-isolation, students will be able to transition more easily between in-class and virtual learning. Our virtual students will also be able to reconnect with their schools and friends and we know these connections are beneficial. 
Equity and Inclusivity: This model will provide families with equal opportunity and timely access to the mode of learning (virtual or in-class) that works best for their personal and unique situation and will make the transition back to in-class learning easier, when the time comes.  In addition, our students with special education needs will have better access to resources and support. 
Responsibility: The hybrid model will better enable us to respond to health unit and ministry directives if we need to quickly pivot to partial or full school closures. 
Families and staff have been through a lot in the past six months, and the board asks for compassion and patience as educators work through COVID-19 challenges, said Joe Zerdin, chair of the board.
“To be honest, it has been difficult and frustrating at times and yet every day I witness our school communities rallying together to overcome obstacles. One of the things that I am optimistic about with this model is that it will reconnect our virtual learners with their schools and friends. The fact is that we are going to be in this global pandemic for quite a bit longer and I really believe that the introduction of this hybrid model is what we must do in order to provide sustainability and stability to carry us forward to the end of June and beyond, if necessary.” 
For more information about the hybrid learning model, please see the frequently asked questions on the board website.