Board reviews additional in-person requests, staff vaccinations

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Connor Niszczak

Dr. Curt Dietrich discusses the current status of North Penn staff vaccinations.

TOWAMENCIN-“So far, we have not seen evidence of linked transmission, so we are not seeing that students or staff are getting the virus at school.” 

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich shared those words with the North Penn School Board during their March worksession on Tuesday night, in which they discussed additional requests for 5 day in-person learning and the status of staff COVID-19 vaccinations.

The week of March 1, 34.5% of students were registered as 5 day in-person (highest percentage in kindergarten, with a percentage decrease as you move up through the grades), 32% hybrid, and 33.5% virtual.

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich outlined the number of additional 5 day requests that have been made and how well the district is able to accommodate them. 950 elementary requests were made, which can be met in 8 out of 13 schools, with 23 students across the board being reassigned to a new classroom or teacher. There are 26 students (20 first graders, 1 second grader, 2 third graders, 9 fourth graders, and 4 sixth graders) from the other 5 schools whose requests can not be met, and finding a solution for those students is the Board’s next step.

At the secondary level, the 173 requests at North Penn High School and 113 requests at Penndale have been met, but of the 105 from Pennbrook, 3 are unmet, 22 do one block virtually, and of the 91 from Pennfield, 15 check in but attend virtually from another room.

Dietrich next shared data regarding the current number of NPSD staff that have been vaccinated against COVID-19. 620 have already been vaccinated. After a question from Board Director Cathy Wesley if that number is 620 fully or just partially vaccinated staff members, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Bauer clarified later in the meeting that, in a staff survey, 51 said ‘partially’, meaning the other 569 are fully vaccinated. 254 staff members have not been vaccinated and declined the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and 239 are waiting for the next wave of vaccinations. 900 educators are scheduled to be vaccinated by the end of this week.

All of our K-6 [staff] who have said ‘yes, we are interested in being vaccinated’ are on that list, and, if they didn’t already get it, they should be getting an appointment to sign up this evening or tomorrow.”

— NPSD Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich

“All of our K-6 [staff] who have said ‘yes, we are interested in being vaccinated’ are on that list, and, if they didn’t already get it, they should be getting an appointment to sign up this evening or tomorrow,” Dietrich explained. 

The district expects to get the next batch of J and J vaccines within 2-3 weeks, an important factor in getting as many staff members as possible fully vaccinated, which will give the Board more wiggle room to meet the currently unmet requests. One of the solutions discussed was decreasing the social distancing to an amount less than 6 feet in certain areas (one specifically discussed was classrooms where the teacher has been fully vaccinated).

“If we do decide that we are at a place where we wouldn’t necessarily be insisting on 6 feet on social distancing-we would say the emphasis on ‘where feasible’-I think we could take action at a future meeting about that,” Dietrich said. 

“A lot of it comes down to how many more requests will we get down the road? [It is} really, really most concerning at K-2…I do believe it is extremely important to get the K-2 students back as soon as we can,” Dietrich added.

A lot of it comes down to how many more requests will we get down the road? [It is} really, really most concerning at K-2…I do believe it is extremely important to get the K-2 students back as soon as we can.”

— Dr. Curt Dietrich

There was discussion of a study conducted in Utah where a district reduced the requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet, with no spike in cases. Additionally, there was a question raised of if optional assurance testing would be possible for students that would be closer than 6 feet together in classrooms. 

“If we are saying that we’re going to give everybody the opportunity to get their vaccines before we would consider no longer requiring 6 feet in certain environments…I think the data is starting to support that it’s the mask that is the most important element for protection,” Board Vice President Christian Fusco noted.

Dietrich then explained how just hours before the meeting, the district got approval to expand BinaxNOW antigen testing to athletics and music extracurriculars, and for “an end of the year, prom type of testing program”. He continued with information about a “very preliminary” pool testing system that could be implemented in the future. 

When it comes to the possibility or reducing the 6 feet of distance, the Board wants to avoid this in cafeterias and eating spaces whenever possible, and pondered if outdoor eating areas could be set up as the weather gets warmer.

“We’re trying really hard to keep the 6 foot in our eating areas, because that’s when the masks are off,” Dietrich explained. 

The Board stressed that the decision to reduce the social distancing requirement will be extremely dependent on staff vaccinations, and they will be very clear with parents of students who would be closer than 6 feet.

“As we check off some of these factors along the way, we owe it to the community-soon-to be able to determine when we’ll be able to offer…on this date, this is when we’ll grant exceptions and give as much information as possible for people to make their own risk assessment,” Board Director Jonathan Kassa said.

As we check off some of these factors along the way, we owe it to the community-soon-to be able to determine when we’ll be able to offer…on this date, this is when we’ll grant exceptions and give as much information as possible for people to make their own risk assessment.”

— NPSD Board Director Jonathan Kassa

“All K-12 is offered 5 day in-person right now. We’re just trying to determine what to do about the 36 [currently unmet elementary requests] and any that could come from people changing their requests,” Board Director Elsiha Gee added.

The North Penn School Board will meet again on Thursday, March 18 at 7pm.