Hamden Public Schools will transition into fully remote learning, a decision that was made after a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
On Saturday, November 14, the Hamden Board of Education voted during a special meeting that students will begin distance learning from November 23, and may continue in person classes on January 19, pending further notice.
Hamden High School (HHS) anticipated the board’s decision by moving all classes online on Tuesday, November 17. Superintendent Jody Goeler tweeted that this decision was rendered “due to staffing shortages.”
Fully remote learning reflects a significant change for students who have been attending in-person classes according to Hamden High School’s hybrid model, which permits student attendance on set days of the week. Apart from a brief false alarm from the HHS dance team and an isolated case in mid-October, the model seemed successful until recent “spikes in positivity rates” in the greater Hamden community, according to Mr. Goeler.
When the board first announced a possible switch to fully remote learning earlier this month, dozens of Hamden residents voiced their concerns in written comments submitted to the Board of Education. Parents in particular expressed their chagrin regarding the difficulties of managing childcare while maintaining their work schedules, asking that the hybrid model continue.
HHS teachers expressed that the hybrid model had exceeded their initial expectations; unlike in March, teachers were properly equipped and prepared for online teaching.
Mrs. Sophia Michalatos, a chemistry teacher, had concerns at the beginning of the semester about the potential negative impacts of online teaching on student performance. “My students are—I think for the most part—keeping up with their work. They met my expectations and many have exceeded them. So, I was very pleased to see that students made that adjustment,” she said.
In general, however, teachers supported the board’s decision, acknowledging the difficulties posed by Covid-19.
“I think the time is right for a decision on distance learning. The metrics within the community, along with teacher absences, are indicating a rapid increase in cases. If we can transition to distance learning in a controlled manner we can hopefully minimize the loss of learning and momentum,” said Mr. David Coss, an AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher. His family members are also involved in schools, and he shared that their districts are also “struggling like Hamden.”
Distance learning, however, will pose new difficulties. Teachers’ ability to communicate with their students will diminish even further.
“I think one of the big difficulties [of online teaching] is that it takes longer to get to know your students,” said Mrs. Michalatos.
Some students said that the hybrid system, while initially confusing, worked well.
“My experience with hybrid learning was okay; it was definitely not a perfect system but with everything going on, I think it was the best solution,” said Ella Powers, a HHS sophomore. “The pros of in-person learning was that it was easier to communicate with your teacher and it gave us a sense of normalcy. The cons of online learning are that it’ll be harder to communicate with others and getting materials like books or notes will be more difficult.”
Students generally agreed, however, that Hamden made the right decision in moving classes online.
“Switching to full distance learning… needs to be done to keep everyone healthy and safe,” said Ms. Powers. “I think the decision to transition to online learning came around the right time.”
“I think that this decision should have been made earlier, because it definitely would have slowed the spread of Covid, especially since the cases are now rising exponentially,” said Dyahatou Saanon, another HHS sophomore.
Fully remote learning will officially start on Monday for the remainder of Hamden district. Once a week, students will have the opportunity to take time off Zoom and focus on schoolwork at their own pace.
The success of the system “comes down to student self-discipline,” said Mr. Coss. “Being at home, perhaps too comfortable, is not the best learning environment, but it is what we have to contend with,” he said.