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.