Hybrid Learning and the New Definition of “Close Contact”

There are 1,247 school districts in Texas.  A handful of these—Livingston, Blanco, Roosevelt, Moody, and Lubbock-Cooper ISD, for example—have eliminated virtual learning entirely at this point.  But most Texas schools are offering hybrid learning at this current stage of the COVID-19 long game, a blend of virtual and in-person learning in which students report to school in staggered shifts throughout the day or the week in order to keep warm body numbers low on campus and allow plenty of space for social distancing.  This is a seemingly healthy compromise intended to meet the competing demands of students’ needs, TEA’s funding expectations, families’ schedules, and local health authority guidelines.

The concern is that hybrid learning may actually be driving up COVID cases.  Yes, students and staff come into less contact with others than they would during a traditional school day, but there is still an exponential amount of contact for tracers to untangle no matter how small student groups are or how limited a group’s movement may be.

Furthermore, for lots and lots of families, the kids have to go somewhere on their virtual learning days, and this is often a neighborhood learning pod, a childcare center, the parent’s workplace, a family member, a neighbor, etc.  Working families sometimes have to get creative.  The point is: if a kid picks up the virus at school, there are infinite places for it to then be dropped off elsewhere when the child is not at school.

If all kids were in school all the time (or dare I say out of school?), then at least transmission would be more confined to one geographic location outside of the home.  Please don’t misunderstand: this is not an outright criticism of the hybrid model or of the hard work that 1200 plus school districts have been doing for the last few months, but simply an observation that the hybrid model is not working for many families any better than 100% online schooling did last spring.  Therefore, these families will do what is necessary, and that can then turn into a contact tracer’s nightmare as families fill in their childcare gaps with any number of different (and often inconsistent) options.

Add to this yesterday’s updated CDC definition of “close contact”, and you can see where things get sticky.  Close contact, according to the CDC, now means being within 6 feet of another person for 15 minutes total over a 24 hour period instead of just 15 consecutive minutes within 6 feet of someone.  Two minutes here, three minutes there, 90 seconds elsewhere.  Technically speaking, every single childcare fix that a parent relies on can now easily be identified as close contact.  This rather changes the efficacy of the hybrid model as it relates to social distancing and curbing the spread of the virus within school age children and their teachers and caretakers.  It begs thinking that perhaps 100% in-person school or 100% virtual learning is the way to go as it lessens transmissions between a school and the many different childcare options that families may rely on.

We’d love to hear from families and school personnel about this dilemma.  Are you discovering options that work?  Is your campus or district experiencing spread due to hybrid learning or not?  School personnel: how does impact your family?  We invite you to email us your stories and ideas..

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