Board approves hybrid model, use of NPHS facilities by student groups

After+finally+welcoming+students+back+to+classrooms+after+8+months+away%2C+NPHS+will+be+closing+down+once+again+beginning+Monday%2C+November+23rd.

Connor Niszczak

After finally welcoming students back to classrooms after 8 months away, NPHS will be closing down once again beginning Monday, November 23rd.

It was the moment that students, teachers, and parents have waited for; after countless hours spent in committee meetings, action meetings, and worksessions over the past several months, the North Penn School Board finally approved a plan for North Penn students to return to school beginning October 19.

The meeting began with a presentation by Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich, who ran through a detailed timeline put together by his administration to outline exactly what is going to happen in the next several weeks.

 

Week of September 28

-further hybrid details developed and shared

-NPSD staff and HR discuss ADA accommodations

-special ed hours expanded

-interviewing/recruiting much-needed substitutes

 

Week of October 5

-registration for Extended School Care students

-families make their hybrid or all-virtual selection by October 9th

-NPSD releases Return to School guide

-continued delivery/installation of live streaming equipment (focus of K-2 classrooms)

-communication sent regarding expansion of in-school support to full days for students with significant disabilities 

-families of students with significant disabilities receiving in-home support elect whether to return to school on 10/26 for live instruction and related services or continue with in-home support

 

Week of October 12

-special education assistants with reduced hours return to 7.5 hours a day on 10-16

-any necessary teacher reassignments will be made

-staff hirings made

-continued installation of TVs

 

Week of October 19

-students will receive their A or B hybrid group

-all staff will be expected to be back in the building on the 19th

-students with significant disabilities receiving special ed services return to their home buildings and receive full-day assistant support during normal school hours

 

Week of October 26

-K-2 students return in a hybrid format

-Extended Care for K-2

 

Week of November 2

-remaining stands for live streaming equipment installed (dependent on 10/26 delivery)

-7th and 10th grade students, along with new students, will have a transition day on November 4th (A group) or November 5th (B group)

 

Week of November 9th

students return to school in A/B hybrid models

 

The Board was excited to finally have a timeline to share with the community and stressed the ongoing need for community cooperation to ensure it can be followed successfully.

“We really are going to need the community to work with us on this. There may be a tough decision you have to make {regarding choosing hybrid or virtual},” said Board Vice President Christian Fusco.

There was then a discussion regarding contact tracing and health screenings that will be expected to be performed daily before all students and faculty come into school. Board member Jonathan Kassa asked if there is a requirement for families to work with contact tracers and if a policy is in place to ensure “as high a compliance rate as possible.”

“I think that certainly the school can encourage it and emphasize the importance of it. I am aware of schools that have said, for instance, attendees {at in-person events} must comply with contact tracing. I do think there’s a question of enforcement of…if we have a student that becomes ill and we become aware of that, obviously that info can be shared with the Department of Health (DOH). One issue is whether or not the DOH would notify us if a family is complying with contact tracing,” expressed General Counsel Kyle Somers.

If an individual is symptomatic, there’s a return after a certain number of days. If presumed positive, there’s another flowchart to follow. Even if someone wasn’t complying with contact tracing, I really believe the Office of Public Health would advise us accordingly.”

— Dr. Jenna Rufo, Asst. Superintendent

“If there was an individual who was presumptively positive, the Office of Public Health has worked closely with us…there’s a specific protocol to follow. If an individual is symptomatic, there’s a return after a certain number of days. If presumed positive, there’s another flowchart to follow. Even if someone wasn’t complying with contact tracing, I really believe the Office of Public Health would advise us accordingly,” clarified Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jenna Rufo.

A specific school reopening guide, including what procedures will need to be taken in terms of self-screening before going to school, will be sent out next week, along with the hybrid/virtual survey.

A number of Board members then brought up questions regarding transportation, including busing and expected increases in car rider lines.

“It’s going to be a challenge with the car rider lines. No doubt about it,” voiced Dietrich.

Chief Financial Officer Steve Skrocki provided details about bus routes and providing a seat for every student. Even if a large number of parents opt to drive their student to school, there will still be an assigned seat for each student on their designated bus. Skrocki expressed how the bus routes for this year were ready in August, and that there is no current plan to change the existing bus stops.

A number of Board members threw out different hypotheticals, including creating routes that would have one bus pick up students in a neighborhood to reduce stops and the length of time on the bus, and adding more buses to increase the number of routes.

“If we’re gonna try to get to 6 feet {distance maintained on buses}, I think we’re looking at a substantial number of additional buses, even in a hybrid situation,” Skrocki said.

If we’re gonna try to get to 6 feet {distance maintained on buses}, I think we’re looking at a substantial number of additional buses, even in a hybrid situation.”

— Steve Skrocki, NPSD Chief Financial Officer

If an A set and a B set of routes would be comprised, that could entail a driver having two different routes to manage every other day.

“A bus driver could be going to one neighborhood on Monday, another neighborhood on Tuesday, a different neighborhood on Wednesday. Not only do we not think that a whole new set of additional routing can be completed in a couple of weeks, but perhaps it would create confusion for the drivers,” Skrocki explained.

The most important aspect of busing is that 6 feet will almost certainly not be possible to maintain on buses. Parents must be aware of this fact when deciding whether they feel comfortable sending their student onto a bus.

Dietrich then went into a thorough breakdown of exactly what “hybrid” means. Any student that does not choose to remain fully virtual, which will still be an option, will be placed in either Group A or Group B. The district still has to decide if A days will be Mon/Thurs rather than Tues/Fri and so on. Any day that a hybrid student is not in a school building, they will be tuning in to live-streamed lessons from their classrooms, utilizing the equipment purchased last month mentioned in the timeline above.

“We keep talking about an A group and B group…there is also kind of a C group, which is the group that’s completely at home. We’ll need to talk at ECI {Education/Curriculum/Instruction Committee} about what that’s going to look like for them,” said Board Director Elisha Gee.

As laid out in the timeline, certain special education students will begin first, beginning 5 days a week, in-person learning beginning October 19.

“When we send out the survey, there is a separate section for special education, and on that form, these families can indicate whether they feel that their child needs additional support. We would go through those requests, work with the families, and accommodate whenever possible,” Rufo explained.

Next up was the Audience of Citizens, in which many parents voice their frustrations over the risks of returning to school and the water polo team’s inability to use the NPHS pool.

“What are we doing that we’re dragging our feet? Other school districts who have less resources than we do are like, ‘we’re all in’,” expressed senior parent Corey Lube.

Sean Devlin, President of the North Penn Education Association, was the next to call in, and he laid out two needs of his constituents; a need to develop a more robust Health and Safety Plan, and an educational plan “that addresses the need for time as well as virtual teaching options for our staff that have their own challenges due to COVID-19.”

We must get this right the first time. Our teachers, students, and community members are all depending on the leadership of this district to do this.”

— Sean Devlin, NPEA President

“We must get this right the first time. Our teachers, students, and community members are all depending on the leadership of this district to do this,” said Devlin.

The Board then heard from quite a few parents of NPHS Water Polo team members, who were concerned about the lack of time in the water the team has been getting in Whites Road Pool due to unseasonably cool temperatures.

“Hypothermia is probably more likely than COVID,” one parent claimed.

Currently, the team is using that outdoor pool because they have not been allowed access to the NPHS natatorium.

Board Director Juliane Ramic made a motion to let the team return to practice in that natatorium; fellow Board members were not happy.

“I was hoping that the first motion tonight would be for the 13,000 kids that we all serve as a Board. I’m disappointed that this is even being brought up to the Board for new business. The fact is this issue is only in front of us because of a Board member’s relationship with the Aquatics program. While I support all athletes, I also believe it is our job to represent all 13,000 students in North Penn; not just those that we have a relationship with. It’s the Board’s job to prioritize their agenda, and especially during this time, to address the most urgent issues.

While I support all athletes, I also believe it is our job to represent all 13,000 students in North Penn; not just those that we have a relationship with. It’s the Board’s job to prioritize their agenda, and especially during this time, to address the most urgent issues. Most of the time, our Board has hit that mark. However, tonight I’m concerned that we’re putting aside what we stand for.”

— NPSD Board Director

Most of the time, our Board has hit that mark. However, tonight I’m concerned that we’re putting aside what we stand for. We spent hours talking about sports already, and I support athletes more than anyone. But we have 2,000 students with IEPs, ELL students…students struggling with mental health, and we’re not looking to open the doors to those groups prior to October 26th. In the end, this is an issue of privilege and equity. Privilege is a special right or advantage granted only to a particular group or person. We as a Board have often spoken out on the issue of privilege. Many of my fellow Board members stood with me at rallies this summer and stated that they understood their privilege and they believed in equity; and yet privilege is what got this on the agenda. There were many other groups who did not have the funding or voice of this group, and their concerns aren’t on the table. In fact, there are over 80 student groups at NPHS; I’m speaking for those groups tonight. I call on my fellow Board members to focus on your priorities. We should be making an equitable decision. An equitable decision would be addressing the needs of all of our students and families. That is who we should be focused on. School Board members will be voting; you’ll be voting for privilege or equity. That’s the vote,” articulated Gee.

Gee’s strong remarks sparked a debate, with Board members supporting the views of both Ramic and Gee.

“If a club comes back and says to me that they want to open tomorrow, I’m gonna vote to open them tomorrow. It’s not a matter of equity, it’s not a matter of privilege, it’s a matter of doing what’s best for the students,” said Al Roesch.

If a club comes back and says to me that they want to open tomorrow, I’m gonna vote to open them tomorrow. It’s not  matter of equity, it’s not a matter of privilege, it’s a matter of doing what’s best for the students.”

— Al Roesch, NPSD Board Director

“I am extremely disappointed that this motion was put forth in this manner. I totally support equity, and I am strong in my vote, which will be a No,” added Cathy Wesley.

“I am frustrated by this vote. I’m not gonna lie,” voiced Fusco.

“I don’t see why we must deny those students based on issues and blanket statements about equity/privilege,” expressed Kassa.

A role call vote was then taken; Wesley, Gee, Fusco, and Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell voted No, and Roesch, Timothy MacBain, Ramic, Kassa, and Board President Tina Stoll voted Yes. The motion carried 5-4, and the Water Polo can once again practice in the NPHS natatorium.

Frustrated with the vote, Gee proposed a motion to allow the use of NPHS facilities by all student groups, as long as the advisor submits a plan to keep students safe, and all procedures adhere to the Health and Safety Plan.

I think it’s a do-able project if the advisor of the club submits a plan to Mr. Nicholson {NPHS Principal}, Mr. Berger {NPHS Activities Director}, and me.”

— Todd Bauer, Asst. Superintendent

“I think it’s a doable project if the advisor of the club submits a plan to Mr. Nicholson {NPHS Principal}, Mr. Berger {NPHS Activities Director}, and me…within the confines of the Health and Safety Plan and Return to Play Plan, I think we can do it,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Bauer.

This motion was not unanimously supported, as one Board member felt the need to finalize a hybrid plan should be prioritized ahead of extracurriculars.

“Am I the only person that’s concerned about putting all this time and energy into this? It’s not that I’m not concerned about the extracurriculars, but we have to put a plan in place to put students in the building. We are now talking about, as soon as next week, bringing as many extracurriculars into the building as possible,” commented Fusco.

Another role call vote was taken; Fusco voted No, and all 8 other Board members voted Yes. The motion carried 8-1.

The final role call vote of the evening was months in the making; the North Penn School Board unanimously voted to adopt a hybrid model, with K-2 returning on October 26th, and all other students on November 9.

The next virtual Board meeting will take place on October 15 at 7pm.