Board discusses return to school, potential hybrid options

The+North+Penn+School+Board+met+for+their+September+action+meeting+on+Thursday%2C+September+17.

The North Penn School Board met for their September action meeting on Thursday, September 17.

“We knew this would not be perfect going in. We knew it would have to be evaluated and tweaked.”

That’s how North Penn School Board President Tina Stoll opened the September action meeting dedicated to discussing the reopening of school.

During the Audience of Citizens, many elementary parents called in to voice their frustration with distance learning and the Board’s decisions.

“We want the options that were provided over the summer that were thoughtfully put together by your staff with multiple doctorates in education. Again, I respect everyone’s right to choose what is best for their family. But you too that choice away from us, and we’re demanding it back,” one frustrated parent said.

I respect everyone’s right to choose what is best for their family. But you too that choice away from us, and we’re demanding it back.”

— An elementary school parent

“I know other districts in the area send out a dashboard every week with ‘these are the metrics we’re tracking, these are our targets, these have been met and these have not.’ It feels like we’re running a marathon and we have no idea where we’re going. Are we at the halfway point? Are we rounding the corner to the finish line, or are we still at the beginning,” voiced another parent.

Every parent who called in voiced praise for the work teachers have been doing to support students, with one dad emphasizing how teachers can not currently do one of the core parts of their job.

“The job of an educator is to provide a safe, safe, safe education environment, and as of right now, that is not possible,” said the father.

The Board concluded from the parents’ comments that complete transparency of where we are and where we’re trying to be is what the community needs.

Stoll then lead the approval of the minutes from the August 20, August 26, and September 8 Board meetings, and proposed, with no objections, to skip over the Committee reports in the interest of allowing time to discuss the return to school.

The Board began with examining the amount of spectators that could slowly be allowed at fall sports. There was specific interest in allowing parents of senior athletes to be able to attend Senior Knights. If 2 parents/guardians per senior were allowed to come, that would only amount to approximately 10-24 spectators, which could easily be spaced 6 feet apart. The Board is expecting Governor Wolf to release guidance on spectators very soon, and will follow state and local guidance in their decisions. In order to not make any premature decisions before hearing from the Governor, the Board tabled the spectator discussion until the Safe Schools Committee meeting on September 21 at 6 pm.

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich then discussed what the last 3 weeks have looked like for North Penn in terms of the incident rate per 100,000 and positivity rates. The incident rates have been 24.8, 33.73, and 30.75, with positivity rates at 2.61%, 3.38%, and 3.37%. Those statistics put the district in the “Low to Moderate Risk” category.

Dietrich addressed the fact that when schools eventually do re-open, it is almost certain that there will be transmission of COVID-19 that occurs.

Our protocols will -and they must- continue to address that fact; that there is likely to be some level of transmission.”

— Dr. Curt Dietrich

“Our protocols will -and they must- continue to address that fact; that there is likely to be some level of transmission. Not necessarily happening in the school, persay, but you could have an individual who picks up the virus in the community and come into the school,” Dietrich said.

Dietrich then discussed the two main hybrid options, an A/B day schedule and an Am/Pm schedule, and what instruction will look like for students when they are not in person.

“I’m not a fan of the hybrid Am/Pm, simply because, as one of the speaker’s during public comment talked about, the sanitation and effect on the budget…we are going to be sanitizing twice a day…I find that burdensome from a logistical and possibly cost-supply perspective,” voiced Board member Cathy Wesley.

The main option discussed was a large television that would be in each classroom acting as a desk; a fraction of the students would be in the classroom, and all other students would be at home, joining class via Google Meets that would appear up on the screen. Teachers would have a bluetooth in their ear to hear comments and questions from the students at home.

NPSD Communications Specialist Bob Gillmer then walked the Board through what it will take to get a television ready for each classroom. Gillmer expected the deliveries to arrive in the third week of October, which would then have to be constructed; difficult to accomplish by early November.

“The one end is logistically getting it here, and the second part is, our teams, we need to coordinate and make sure we’re getting those systems together. Those are real things that need to be accomplished. I couldn’t tell you at all that it would happen by the end of October,” Gillmer explained.

After hearing from Gillmer, the Board voted to approve the $500,000 purchase of the televisions using money given to the district through the CARES Act.

A number of parents requested during the Audience of Citizens for the Board to allow them to choose again from the three options that were given over the summer, but Dietrich made clear that those options may not be available.

I don’t see us going immediately to the three options. I see that we would walk this in with hybrid, and then when we have some success, expand.”

— Dr. Curt Dietrich

“I don’t see us going immediately to the three options. I see that we would walk this in with hybrid, and then when we have some success, expand…A lot depends on how many want to remain in fully virtual. If we’re overwhelmed with the number of people that want to come back, it’s a lot more difficult,” Dietrich emphasized.

“If we get 90% that want to return, versus about 73% in the summer…we need to take a long hard look at that and see if we can deliver on that or do we need to divide things even more on a 45/45 basis. I think we can, but we need to see how that turns out,” Dietrich added.

Board Vice President Christian Fusco laid out three main factors that he wants to clarify as the Board moves forward; who will be going back (will K-2 return first), when will students return, and in what manner (hybrid or in-person).

Those decisions, along with figuring out how to handle busing, in-person lunches, and specific COVID-19 metrics that need to be met by the district will all be discussed at the special September 22 6pm meeting set by the Board.