Two major issues dominated last night’s East Penn school board meeting:
An Updated Pandemic Safety Plan
The main item on the agenda was an updated health and safety plan for the school district. Originally passed last summer, the plan was revised to a) allow for continued hybrid instruction during substantial spread of COVID-19 in the community (the original did not), and b) comply with new state requirements. Given the level of community spread and the continued lack of adequate community testing and contact tracing, I offered an amendment to the plan to stay in remote-only instruction until January 11th. If you want to hear me explain why in more detail, you can watch my remarks from the meeting for yourself (warning: I regret how long-winded I was).
Here, though, I want to share only that I’ve spoken to many people who see a “clear” choice one way or the other, or that believe one choice is “absolutely” the right one. And there is a tendency to question the motives of those who see things differently. Yet those pushing to stay in the hybrid mode care about the health and safety of teachers, students, and their families every bit as much as I do. And those pushing to move to remote-only instruction care about the mental health of students and the needs of students with disabilities every bit as much as those who prefer the hybrid model. District administrators, like me and every one of my colleagues on the board, are doing their best to balance all of these things in a context where there are no good choices. No matter what your perspective, these are difficult choices.
The updated plan, with the amendment, ultimately passed by a vote of 6-3. As a result, all East Penn schools will be remote only from December 16th through January 11th. I hope this period will help minimize transmission resulting from increased social gathering over the Christmas and New Year holidays, so that the schools can offer more consistent in-person instruction beginning again in January.
The issue of racial equity in the district was raised during the public comment period by a number of current and former students. They shared experiences of some students of color in the district who have struggled to be heard and valued. In some cases, the experiences were recounted by white classmates, as the students of color did not feel safe sharing them publicly themselves.
Those that spoke last night have teamed together with other students, teachers, and parents to form the group EPSD Equality, whose goal is to improve how East Penn addresses equity and diversity issues. As a starting point, they asked the district to implement annual and universal anti-racist training for all staff members.
As I noted in the meeting, many of us find race and racism difficult to talk about. We don’t always have the language we think we need, and– as a result– avoid the topic when we can. I’m therefore grateful to those who spoke up last night. And anti-racism training may very well be the appropriate first step to help everyone in the district develop the vocabulary and other tools needed to address racial injustice more directly and fully.