LAHS Science Department Shares Open Letter To School Board About In-Person Learning

Science Department Chair
Los Alamos High School

Dear Los Alamos County School Board Members,

I am the Science Department Chair at Los Alamos High School and I am writing this letter on behalf of the entire Science Department. I would like to share our thoughts and concerns about in-person learning.

I would first like to acknowledge how much harder teachers are working this year than ever before to implement remote learning. We are learning brand new skills, modifying our curricula, converting old materials to the online format, shortening assignments, finding and testing virtual labs, and increasing our communication with parents and students. We are using every minute, and more, of our planning time to deliver content to our students and to ensure academic success, as well as coming up with ideas to increase student engagement and to improve community culture within our classes.

In addition to the increased workload, we are human beings and community members who are facing the fear of catching COVID19 and bringing the infection home to our families. We are juggling the lives of our own families and dealing with the logistics of educating our own children while simultaneously conducting our classes. Some of us are caring for older parents and other family members with health concerns.

We acknowledge that there is a need for in-person learning. We would like to see that the rollout be done safely and timely. After isolating ourselves and our families for ten months, we would be terribly unhappy to be exposed to COVID19 through in-person learning when vaccination is within our sights. So we would like to suggest that in-person learning be postponed until all teachers who want vaccinations are vaccinated. We will also need time to learn the logistics of managing students safely within the classroom. We would like training on COVID safe practices. If we can get vaccinated soon, we feel that March 15 could be a fitting time to start in-person learning since it is the beginning of the fourth quarter and falls two weeks before spring break.

As science teachers, we would also like the community and the school board to be aware that classical labs will not be possible based on COVID safe practices. It will not be feasible to have students share lab equipment or work together in lab groups. Our classrooms do not have enough space for group lab activities and we do not have enough equipment for personal lab stations at each desk. Nor do we have time to plan and order in-person lab activities for our students. So the model for in-person learning that we are considering is a staffed study hall where teachers can answer questions that students may have  and reiterate lesson material from the mornings’ remote learning. We would also like it acknowledged that the in-person learning will cut into the time that we are using to plan our classes, grade our assignments, and communicate with parents. So you will be placing a greater burden on us when you implement in-person learning. And for teachers with school-aged children, the burden will be even greater as they manage the logistics of transporting children to and from school, as well as managing their schoolwork.

We still have many questions about the logistics of in-person learning. Will teachers with health problems and quarantining teachers be required to use leave if they cannot be in-person, even though they are still using the afternoons for planning, grading, meetings with students, and communicating with parents? There are known side effects after the second vaccination such as chills, fevers, and soreness. How will the district handle the absences on the day after the mass vaccination of school staff? Some of us have children returning from college or graduating from college mid-May. The state requires a 14 day quarantine after traveling out of state. Will we be allowed to attend our children’s out-of-state graduation ceremonies? If we have a family member who has a high health risk, how do we ensure we are not bringing COVID19 home to our families?

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration of our concerns.  We are confident that together we can move forward, advocating for and supporting the welfare of this community’s students and families. We look forward to your response.