7/13/20 School Board Meeting Guide

Last night’s board meeting was devoted almost exclusively to discussion of the district’s plan to reopen in the fall. I’m sharing a broad overview of the plan below, but you can watch the full presentation and discussion for yourself here, and read the plan for yourself here.

The gist of it all is this: Families who want fully remote instruction will have that option, and parents will be asked soon whether or not they would like to do this (at least for the beginning of the school year). If Lehigh County returns to the red phase of the pandemic due to increased spread of the virus, all students will receive this remote instruction. Otherwise, elementary students will be able to attend school every day, and high school students will be able to attend school twice a week. How often middle school students will be able to attend has not yet been determined, as it depends on the number of parents who choose the fully remote instruction option. Middle and high school students will have remote instruction on the days they aren’t in their classrooms.

The schools will look much different next year. Students and teachers will be required to maintain a distance of 3 to 6 feet from each other to the greatest extent possible. They will also be required to wear masks at all times, except for occasional breaks when they are stationary and far apart from each other. Classrooms will be reconfigured to maximize the distance between people. Group tables are being replaced with individual desks. All students will be facing one direction in each classroom. Water fountains will be turned off (so students will need to carry their own water bottles), and the sharing of materials and supplies will be kept to an absolute minimum. Lunches will be fully packaged grab-and-go style rather than the traditional food lines and buffets.

School transportation will also be an issue, as the district does not have enough buses or drivers to transport all students safely with proper social distancing. A standard school bus can only hold 13 students if they are all to be 6 feet apart. In order to address this problem, parents will be asked if they can commit to providing regular transportation to school for their children. The fully online option and the limited number of days students will attend the high school, and possibly the middle schools, will help further address the problem of bus capacity.

There will inevitably be positive cases of COVID-19 among students or staff in the district, even if the pandemic numbers in the county stay as low as they are right now. Parents will be notified of such cases, and all students and staff that the PA Department of Health determines were in close contact with the person will be required to quarantine themselves for 14 days before returning to school.

I understand that all of this probably raises more questions than it answers! Some additional questions are answered in the written plan itself. Others can’t be answered right now because many things remain uncertain, including how many parents will choose the entirely remote option, what new mandates will be set by the state, and what the spread of the virus will look like a month from now. And still other questions I will continue to seek answers to over the coming weeks. The district plans to present a revised version of the plan for approval by the board at a special board meeting to be held on July 27th.

This is a just-the-facts-ma’am summary. I will be offering my own thoughts on the plan in future posts.

19 thoughts on “7/13/20 School Board Meeting Guide”

  1. I recognize the very difficult position that the board, administrators and school staff are in regarding the reopening plans for schools. That being said, nothing about last night’s meeting did anything to soothe my anxiety over the upcoming school year. I will have a 4th grader at WES, and the change to 100% of the students with only a 3′ social distancing requirement worries me. While I have many concerns my biggest issue is the mask requirement and the fact that anyone can get an exception. It helps nothing if I send my kid to school in a mask that he is required to wear all day, when any number of other kids around him might not be wearing them. The fact that legally you can not make people prove why they would need an exemption or notify other parents of how many students might have exemptions really limits my ability to make an informed decision. A totally remote option would most likely be a disaster for my child, but if I can’t properly assess the risks how can I send him back. I feel that if masks are the requirement, then people that don’t want to wear them should be the ones that have to keep their kids home, not the other way around.

    I also have concerns about arrival and dismissal from school. I have been in Wescosville when the students are arriving and can attest that it is absolute chaos from 8:45 when the doors open until 9:00 when the kids need to be in class. How do you safely get the kids from the bus, down one hallway in that amount of time? Does this mean that buses will need to unload one at a time, with a chance to clear the hall before the next group? Does this cut into education time? Waiting for everyone to get into the classroom, wash their hands, etc. What will dismissal look like? Will they start the dismissal process early to limit the number of students in the halls (again cutting into education time)? or will the busses be leaving school that much later? If a large number of families decide to provide their own transportation how will the school be able to facilitate that – Brookside Road is a disaster on school day mornings under the best of circumstances – if the % of families doing drop off and pick increase I foresee a huge traffic issue. There is not enough room for parking in the afternoon for parent pickup, there is not enough room to social distance while waiting in line. The kids all cluster in the hallway and wait for their names to be called – do they have room to space them out?

    I was apprehensive about the hybrid plan when it was first introduced and while it is not ideal, I feel like half the number of students in the building might be a better option.

    I know that you all have a very difficult decision ahead of you, and I am sure that you are getting feedback from all sides. Good luck!

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    • You are right to be anxious about all of this, Tanya. I think we all are. We are in uncharted territory, trying to choose the best among many bad options.

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  2. I agree that although the hybrid option is not ideal, it gives all children of elementary age the opportunity for socialization and in-school lessons while it minimizes the risks that 100% capacity, full days, 5 days a week will incur. I think the hybrid option for elementary should be reconsidered. If it is going to be 100% full classrooms with children only 3 feet apart rather than the CDC recommended 6, we will be doing the 100% remote but only for a lack of a better solution.

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  3. I AM VERY GRATEFUL FOR THE FULL REMOTE OPTION WHICH I WILL BE CHOOSING FOR MY KIDS IT GIVES ME PEACE OF MIND…ALSO I FEEL OPENING THE SCHOOLS WHEN THE VIRUS HAS NOT BEEN FULLY CONTAINED IS KIND OF CRAZY ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE IS NO TREATMENT AND NO VACCINE AVAILABLE YET

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  4. Hi, rising senior here. Has the district taken into account AP classes? With the way the schedule has been set up, some have been saying that online classes have a different schedule than those who are taking them in person. I know these are just rumors at a minimum, but would you be able to confirm that everyone would be on the same type of schedule regardless of if they are in person versus at home? My concern is if I had one of my AP classes in the first semester, I would have several months before my exam. If I was scheduled to take it in the second semester, I would not have nearly as much time to learn the material for the exam. If you had any insight into any of this, that would be great. Thank you so much.

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    • I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to your question, Michael. But I will definitely add it to my list of questions to ask the administration! Thanks.

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  5. I am extremely skeptical of the 3 feet rule being used, especially for elementary. It is not a recommendation mentioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as far as I know. We have not eradicated the virus. In fact, it is just getting worse in areas of Pennsylvania. I know many East Penn parents are saying they are much more comfortable with having 50% of students in the building at a time rather than 100%, but we are not being given that as a choice for elementary. Also, there appears to be no way of actually enforcing the use of a mask. This is highly concerning
    .
    One confusing part of the meeting was that if a case is found in a school building – whether student, faculty or staff – it is going to be dealt with by the Department of Health and contract tracers. This may be what the law says, but it seems to be something that will be very time consuming from symptoms to diagnosis to having actual contract tracers reach those that have been in class with that student/teacher/staff member. Personally, in my head I think of a specialist teacher who has contact with every student in a building. I am wondering how long it would take before a contract tracer is actually able to reach out to people and how many others are getting exposed while waiting. If one of my children is exposed, I want to know as quickly as possible to protect their health.

    Also, they made comments about having space available for teachers to be possibly 3 to 6 feet away from students when they measured the rooms, but they didn’t mention room for all of the other adults who will be in a classroom. Is there room for 3 adults in a room to safely be 3 or more feet away from students? Usually classrooms have others in the room from staff assistants to instructional assistants or remedial assistants and student teachers (if they allow them).

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Jen. I do believe the PA Department of Education does now make reference to the 3-foot rule. But I share your concern that this is adequate. From what I know thus far, the 3-foot guideline was created decades ago and has since been disputed by better research. For example, see this PBS News Hour article. That being said, I recognize that I’m not an expert in this area, and so I continue to gather more information on what the science can teach us about physical distance and the spread of the virus.

      I also have concerns about contact tracing. This is an essential element of keeping the community safe when the schools open, and the (inevitable) positive cases emerge. According to a research center at George Washington University, Lehigh County would need 91 contact tracers to adequately manage the current (very low) number of cases in our area. Obviously that number will increase when/if our numbers increase. Dr. Mirabella– Director of Student Services– expressed confidence that the contact tracing will be robust. But I can’t help but wonder, who is going to hire the contact tracers, where is the money going to come from, and if all of this is being put in place– why aren’t we hearing more about it?

      This is all to say that I share many of your concerns. Given the current state of the world, a good plan is impossible. The goal is to choose a path forward that is the least bad option. The current draft of the district’s health and safety plan is a good first step. But it all may come crashing down if the pandemic worsens in our area again.

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  6. I have a high school student. would welcome more detail on how remote learning will be different this fall than in the spring. I am assuming teaching will be asynchronous (taped video or sending kids to khan academy) like it was in the spring. Was any thought given to synchronous teaching such as zoom class so at least kids can interact and ask questions? I also share Michael’s concern regarding AP classes. These kids will definitely be at a disadvantage.

    Reply
    • Overall the distance learning option promises to be much more robust this coming year than it was in the spring. So it’s unclear to me how much we should use the spring experience as a guide. My sense is that the distance learning will be mostly asynchronous, but I haven’t seen a detailed plan that actually lays that out.

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        • At Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Campbell said the plan is to have the survey out sometime this week.

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        • The timeline for this has changed several times! While originally scheduled for last week, the district is now planning to send out the survey after the board meeting next Monday (July 27th). This will ensure that parents have the most update to date revisions of the plan to consider in making this important choice.

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  7. Wil we be able to change our minds about remote vs in person school? For instance, if I decided to send my kids to school, but for whatever reason feel this isn’t the best option. Can we switch to remote learning? And vice versa, say I Keep them out for the start of the year, bit want them to rejoin after say the 1st or 2nd marking period, is this possible? Is it an all or nothing decision?
    And if we were able to do remote learning for part of the year and then switch tk school learning, would the kids learning at home be on pace with the kids in the classroom? How will we ensure that the remote learning option teaches kids as much as the in school option?

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    • I know that choosing the distance learning option will commit you for the first trimester. After that, you can reconsider. I don’t know if you will be able to start out in person and then switch to the distance learning option at any time.

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  8. There are several factors to consider for working families. What about parents that work full time outside of the home? How would we possibly be able to ensure our kids are home doing their school work? Especially for those parents who have children with IEPs, who can’t self guide. Or children with ADHD, for whom excessive screen time causes behavioral concerns. I understand everyone has their concerns about the virus, and we will all likely have different opinions on it. However, for children whom remote leaving isn’t an option, they are being left behind and parents are left to struggle. There is no vaccine or treatment, and to put off their education until there is one? It could be years, if ever. So at what point does this stop? Are parents to come home after working a full day, cook dinner, then provide education to their children until late hours of the evening? This places strain on families and students. I also agree that there is no great solution here, and I appreciate the effort you are putting in to accommodating the many families in this district. However, there are still these serious hurdles to overcome and I’m wondering if there’s any thought into mitigating the factors listed above?

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