District hosts virtual forum on future of 2020-2021 school year

%28clockwise%29+Assistant+Superintendent+Dr.+Todd+Bauer%2C+NPTV%27s+Mr.+Bob+Gillmer%2C+Assistant+Superintendent+Dr.+Jenna+Rufo%2C+and+Superintendent+Dr.+Curt+Dietrich.

Connor Niszczak

(clockwise) Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Bauer, NPTV's Mr. Bob Gillmer, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jenna Rufo, and Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich.

LANSDALE-On Thursday night, the North Penn School District held a virtual community forum to discuss a multitude of factors impacting what the future of the 2020-2021 school year could look like.

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich and Assistant Superintendents Dr. Todd Bauer and Dr. Jenna Rufo lead the conversation, which the community could join via NPTV’s Youtube channel, Facebook page, and local cable channel.

The goals of the forum were to lay out to the community what evolving factors the District has to consider regarding, if they are given the option, how to safely re-open schools.  

Over two dozen factors were discussed, including the school entry process, limiting the number of students one teacher would see, the frequency of cleaning desks/door handles/etc., and the requirement of masks.

Masks have been one of the most discussed factors, as there are concerns about how realistic it would be to have students wear masks for seven hours straight.

“If we need to mandate the wearing of masks, how realistic is it for students to wear a mask all day,” said Dietrich.

“We don’t expect that 5 year olds in kindergarten are going to keep masks on for 7 hours a day.”

— Dr. Jenna Rufo

“We don’t expect that 5 year olds in kindergarten are going to keep masks on for 7 hours a day,” added Rufo.

The triumvirate then dived into the results of a recent survey (with nearly 4,000 participants, roughly ⅔ being parents), where parents and students were asked to respond to a number of prompts regarding the district’s handling of distance learning.

84% said that they feel “positive or very positive” about NPSD students having the necessary supports to learn at home. 80% felt positively that “NPSD schools have provided adequate online resources to support learning.” 50% felt that “NPSD students feel that they can learn a lot outside of the classroom.” 

Overall, the survey results showed that the community is happy and appreciative of district efforts over the past few months. The biggest criticism was the lack of synchronous learning, which will be further integrated into the learning system if schools do not repen in the fall. One floated idea was having a “bell schedule” for secondary students, where they would receive live virtual instruction from teachers.

Another major aspect of distance learning that will be altered if it continues in the fall is the grading system. Since March 30th, students have been graded on a 0-2 points per day system; come fall, a new system based more on skill comprehension will be implemented.

(The 2 point system) won’t be good enough if it’s September and we’re in these conditions.”

— Dr. Todd Bauer

“There will be a larger component of skill acquisition and mastery…a grade is supposed to represent what a student knows and is able to do. (The 2 point system) won’t be good enough if it’s September and we’re in these conditions,” said Bauer.

 

2020-2021 School Year Options Discussed

Option 1-all students would return to school

Option 2-alternating groups of students would come into the building (Group A on Monday, Group B on Tuesday…students not coming into the building on a particular day would do schoolwork from home) 

Option 3-partial days (some students would come in the morning, some in the afternoon)

 

 

It is essential to remember that these options would only be possible if the state of Pennsylvania and Governor Tom Wolf allow schools to reopen; if not, distance learning will continue.

Dietrich, Bauer, and Rufo made it clear throughout the forum that families will eventually get to make a choice of what option they would be most comfortable, so if parents don’t want their students back in school until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, that will be allowed.

“We want our parents to make some decisions as to whether they feel comfortable having their child return to school in the fall,” expressed Dietrich.

The number of students that opt to continue distance learning or begin to return to school will affect staffing, Extended School Care programs, and a multitude of other services across the district.

“There will be a time when families will need to commit (to their desired option), just not May 28th,” added Bauer.

The forum was the first step in getting a pulse from the community to point the district in the right direction and whittle out unwanted options. Dietrich made it very clear that information is changing by the day, if not by the hour, and future forums will certainly be held to keep the community informed about the months to come.

From the Class of 2021 to the Class of 2032, there is extreme uncertainty and worries about when students will return to school and begin to see aspects of pre-COVID life. Dietrich summed up how much of the North Penn community is feeling right now.

“I just don’t know what to tell you right now…I wish we had more answers.”