“All hands on deck”: Administrators introduce livestream instruction option, address temporary staff shortage

Dodd responds to spike in number of students and staff who are quarantining


Christina Xiong

Principal Robert Dodd announced to staff on Sunday that educators may now livestream their classes.

By Ethan Schenker

Whitman teachers will have the option to livestream their classes on Zoom when students return from winter break, according to an email Principal Robert Dodd sent to staff on Sunday. Dodd’s message also addressed expected gaps in staff coverage in the coming days.

Beginning Wednesday, teachers will be able to choose between two options for instructing students who are in quarantine. They may either livestream their classes on Zoom or deliver instruction through the existing “Quarantine Instruction” model, in which educators provide students at home with access to virtual school materials and establish direct contact through virtual check-ins or email.  

Teachers must communicate their chosen instructional method to quarantined students and can switch between the options from lesson to lesson. Educators who livestream their classes must position their microphone and laptop to ensure remote learners can hear and see the instruction over Zoom, but they won’t need to incorporate “interactive strategies” to include the students at home in-class activities, according to Dodd’s email. 

The administration’s decision to provide the new instructional options follows a recent uptick in coronavirus cases both at Whitman and throughout the school district. During winter break, nine staff members and 66 students at Whitman tested positive for COVID-19. 

In his message to staff, Dodd introduced the new live stream option with a warning that the school’s educators could expect to face “more trying times ahead.” 

“The challenges we are facing in both our personal and professional lives are likely to increase,” Dodd wrote. “With a significant number of both students and staff quarantining, we are going to have to be creative in providing both coverage for staff and instruction for students who are unable to attend school.”

Junior Max Waldman feels that the additional instructional format is necessary given that a growing number of students may have to stay home from school, he said. 

“Continuing the Quarantine Instruction model is unsustainable if any significant number of kids get COVID,” Waldman said. “So live streaming is really the only option for teachers, and it’ll be way more beneficial to students.” 

Many students feel that introducing the livestream method will make learning during quarantine more manageable. 

“I think it’s good that they’re providing multiple options for quarantined students,” freshman Dylan Wang said. 

In addition to announcing the livestream format, Dodd also addressed staff quarantines in his message. A “significant number” of staff who are in quarantine has created gaps in coverage for classes, Dodd wrote.  

“We currently have an exceedingly high number of staff who will not be at school and don’t have substitutes,” Dodd wrote. “We are going to have to take an all-hands on deck approach and administrators, teachers, and support staff will need to be used to provide coverage.” 

Dodd added that administrators would provide supervision for students during class time if their teacher elects to instruct from home. Teachers completing mandatory ten-day quarantines may either conduct classes remotely “if their health allows it,” or they can choose to use designated COVID-19 sick leave, according to the email. 

Some staff members believe that although the new livestream option will likely help address student quarantines, it may be difficult for the school to handle the challenges resulting from staff quarantines. 

“With these new measures, an overwhelming amount of students in quarantine is manageable,” said history teacher Jacob East. “The one thing I believe is not manageable is if you have an abundance of staff out with COVID. Someone’s got to be in classrooms with students, and things really begin to get difficult because no one can make substitutes come in.”

East noted that many teachers could be unable to come to school not just because they may test positive for COVID-19 but also because they may need to take care of a quarantining family member. Before MCPS canceled school for Monday and Tuesday due to severe weather, he had planned to teach virtually until Wednesday to take care of his quarantined daughter, he said.

In an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 when students return to school, Dodd instructed staff to “limit student movement in classrooms” and continue to use the portable air filters in their rooms. Whitman administrators are currently seeking additional purifiers from MCPS facilities, he wrote. 

Even with an “exceedingly high” number of teachers at home, it’s still imperative that students learn course content with minimal disruption, East said. 

“The learning’s got to keep going,” he said. “I have two AP classes this year, and we have an objective that we have to meet because the world isn’t going to stop spinning. It’s not going to come to a standstill. It’s going to keep going, and we have to do everything we can to get everyone where they need to be.”