Board continues reopening discussion, hears from frustrated parents

The+NPSD+Board+is+getting+closer+to+deciding+the+fate+of+the+school+year+for+North+Penn+High+school+students+and+the+rest+of+the+district.+

Connor Niszczak

The NPSD Board is getting closer to deciding the fate of the school year for North Penn High school students and the rest of the district.

“There’s always going to be a risk in moving forward. Nothing’s going to be perfect. It’s a decision, and we’ve got to live by it.”

Despite that sentiment expressed by School Board Director Cathy Wesley, another lengthy Board meeting ended in no decision being made about the return to school for North Penn students.

The meeting kicked off with Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich explaining the four main options for a return to school that are currently being presented by the District.

  1. Establish metrics that haven’t yet been met, and hold off on a return
  2. Bring students back while providing asynchronous learning for students not in person 
  3. Bring students back while utilizing current technology to provide live streaming for students at home
  4. Bring students back when recently purchased technology for live streaming will be delivered and installed, while continuing in the current format

Dietrich then reiterated COVID-19 data shared at last week’s action meeting, sharing that Montgomery County’s health department has recorded COVID-19 incident rates per 100,000 residents of the District of 24.8 percent, 33.73 percent and 30.75 percent for three, two and one week ago with positive test rates for those weeks at 2.61 percent, 3.38 percent and 3.37 percent. Dietrich pointed out comments made by Dr. Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, in which she said the current numbers are likely as good as they’re going to get.

The full board discussion kicked off with updates on the amount of cleaning supplies currently in the district’s stockpile, with Board Director Juliane Ramic saying “If there are disruptions in supply and we’re not able to keep up with cleaning supplies or with PPE, I think that also is a metric we need to monitoring, updating, and sharing with the community.”

We have enough cleaning supplies for the entire school year…{our stockpile} could actually bring us well into next year.”

— Jonathan Kassa, Facilities Committee Chair

“We have enough cleaning supplies for the entire school year. We were pleased that Mr. Schneider {Tom Schneider, Director of Facilities and Operations for the NPSD} reported, with the procurement of the consortium purchase through the MCIU, {Montgomery County Intermediate Unit} it could actually bring us well into next year,” clarified Board Director and Chairman of the Facilities and Operations Committee Jonathan Kassa.

Dietrich and Chief Financial Oficer Steve Skrocki then gave updates on purchases such as plexiglass face shields and trifolds that have put the district in a much better position than it was in over the summer. Twenty trifolds were purchased for each building, many meant to be used for speech therapy, and 2,000 face shields were purchased; one for every staff member.

The Board then moved into a discussion about the recent $500,000 purchase of televisions that will be installed in classrooms for eventual hybrid learning, and the impact that will have on their decisions, particularly regarding whether or not to bring K-2 back before other grades.

Any family who wants to remain virtual, without the streaming equipment, will {almost definitely} have to switch their teacher. If that equipment comes in early enough, it makes a difference.”

— Elisha Gee, NPSD Board Director

“If I’m a first grade family, and the choice is if I’m sticking with virtual or hybrid- if that’s the choice we present to our first grade families- and I have “Mr. Fusco” as my teacher, who my child has grown attached to, even virtually, if I want my child to remain virtual, they cannot remain with “Mr. Fusco” without the streaming equipment; they would have to switch to a different teacher. Any family who wants to remain virtual, without the streaming equipment, will {almost definitely} have to switch their teacher. If that equipment comes in early enough, it makes a difference,” explained Board Director Elisha Gee.

NPSD Communications Director Bob Gillmer then gave details on the timeline of when all those televisions are scheduled to arrive and what it will take to get them ready for teachers to use.

We will need to receive that equipment, then get it distributed to our buildings to be assembled. What I’m working on is several teams that will be working simultaneously to assemble the equipment and get it into classrooms. We’re looking at probably 2 days to get everything out to the buildings, and about a week to assemble it all.”

— Bob Gillmer, NPSD Communications Director

“Most of the equipment we’re looking at getting in mid to the third week of October. Once I have the actual dates of shipping, we will need to receive that equipment; and it doesn’t mean a truck rolls in with 800 of everything on one day. We will need to receive that equipment, then get it distributed to our buildings to be assembled. What I’m working on is several teams that will be working simultaneously to assemble the equipment and get it into classrooms. We’re looking at probably 2 days to get everything out to the buildings, and about a week to assemble it all,” said Gillmer.

There was a separate purchase made recently of 50 televisions that Gillmer expects to arrive within the next two weeks. The Board discussed that, if those were used, along with the earliest televisions to arrive from the $500,000 purchase, kindergarten and first grade students, for example, may be able to return before the originally proposed date of November 9. There are 45 kindergarten, 45 first grade, and 43 second grade classrooms throughout the district, so that would depend on roughly 85 televisions arriving early enough to be installed before November 9. Additionally, Gillmer and the Board unanimously agreed that teachers will require at least a few days, if not an entire week, to get themselves familiar with the new technology before students return to classrooms.

“We need to make sure that they’re prepared to do this on Day One. You’ve been doing this with a laptop in front of you, now here’s a giant TV, camera, mic, have your kids at home, have your kids in front of you…there’s a lot that’s gonna go into this particular hybrid model that is not going to be well-designed to pick up on day one,” voiced Board Vice President Christian Fusco.

You’ve been doing this with a laptop in front of you, now here’s a giant TV, camera, mic, have your kids at home, have your kids in front of you…there’s a lot that’s gonna go into this particular hybrid model that is not going to be well-designed to pick up on day one.”

— Christian Fusco, NPSD Board VP

Teachers that are already coming into their buildings to teach virtually every day, if willing, could be used to test out this model in the coming weeks. The Board also noted that technical difficulties will certainly arise that will need to be addressed as quickly as possible.

“I could see us needing to have a person on deck at each school that can run to a teacher’s classroom {in case of a technical emergency},” said Gee.

Dietrich next spoke briefly about teachers with pre-exisiting conditions and have requested accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would allow them to continue teaching from home, even when students return.

“That is a matter of continuous discussion. We’re trying to understand if there are teachers putting in a request for an accommodation under the ADA, and what we might be able to do…If they say {reporting to school in-person} is something they can’t do because of a pre-exisiting condition, for example, they’re going to have that continuous discussion with the HR department to pursue what options are available to them,” explained Dietrich.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Bauer gave the Board details on how he and North Penn High School Principal Pete Nicholson have been trying to figure out the most effective way to marry the existing A-F day schedule with the hybrid A/B schedule. He gave an example of how confusing a potential schedule could be.

“With a 6 day cycle, if November 9 is a D day, and we follow the order of A-F like we normally would, a student would not have an A day -if they’re in that first A group- until the end of January,” explained Bauer.

With a 6 day cycle, if November 9 is a D day, and we follow the order of A-F like we normally would, a student would not have an A day -if they’re in that first A group- until the end of January.”

— Dr. Todd Bauer, Assistant Superintendent

For example, a student could return on November 9 and have an in-person gym class, but would not be physically present for another gym class until the end of January. Bauer expressed that he and Nicholson are constantly trying to manage how to best put together this puzzle.

Before concluding the worksession, the Board heard from district parents, many of them frustrated, in the Audience of Citizens.

“Our kids need to be back in school, learning in their classrooms, doing the things we’ve done in our country for over a hundred years. We as a community know what’s best for our families, and we want you to keep us in mind when you’re making these decisions,” expressed one parent.

“You can’t even have a discussion on one topic and get it out of the way without going left, going right, turning around in a circle, and coming back again. Nail it down, get a conversation going, talk to us, the public -we’re the one who put you there- talk to us. Have a conversation with us. Let’s get the kids back in school, let’s get their mental health better, and let’s move forward,” said another.

There is widespread interest by the Board in coming back in a hybrid model, hopefully on November 9 or earlier. 

“We’re kind of there with the metrics. It seems to me that it really is more about the logistics and about who we’re gonna bring back first, if we’re gonna bring everyone back, and how we’re gonna do it,” voiced Fusco.

Cathy Wesley emphasized the need for the Board to set concrete guidelines for what it would talk to re-close a school, and not wait to do so until we reopen.

“This Board needs to address where we are with, if there’s an increase in cases, what the parameters are for closing. There’s no reason for us to wait,” Wesley said.

Some members expressed a want to meet weekly, therefore, a special meeting was set for October 1 at 6pm to continue to discuss busing, lunches, and the Health and Safety plan.