Board approves new Assistant Superintendent, reducing social distancing in limited situations

Dr.+Curt+Dietrich+outlines+the+District%27s+next+step+in+a+return+to+normalcy.

Connor Niszczak

Dr. Curt Dietrich outlines the District’s next step in a return to normalcy.

TOWAMENCIN- At their March action meeting, the North Penn School Board approved the revised Health and Safety plan, which calls for reducing social distancing to between 3 and 6 feet in certain cases. Just hours after the meeting, on March 19, the CDC officially released new guidance for schools, which “now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings.” 

The vote came after several NPSD parents called in during the Audience of Citizens, voicing their support for the distancing reduction, with one parent wanting North Penn schools to “[open] up as much as possible.”

The Board’s move comes in order to allow all students who want to learn in-person to be able to, which includes 30 elementary students and 48 secondary students who are currently on a waiting list. Over the past month, there has been a significant increase in the number of in-person students. On February 23, 34.5% of students were 5-days (46.7% of elementary, 24.4% of middle, and 18.8% of NPHS), 32% were hybrid (25.7% elementary, 38.1% middle, and 39.4% NPHS), and 33.5% were fully virtual (27.8% of elementary, 37.4% middle, and 41.8% NPHS). 

On March 16, 44.2% of students were 5-days (59.1% of elementary, 31.9% of middle, and 24.5% of NPHS), 24% were hybrid (16.1% elementary, 31.4% middle, and 33.4% NPHS), and 31.9% were fully virtual (24.8% elementary, 36.8% middle, and 42.1% virtual).

The Board then went through the monthly Committee reports. The Finance Committee shared information about the latest round of federal stimulus money; the estimate for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief is $9,357,791. Safe Schools shared updates on the ScholarChip scan-in system at NPHS, which is soon to be implemented at the middle schools and through ‘bus ridership features.’ 

The Education/Curriculum/Instruction (ECI) Committee shared the addition of four new pieces of literature into different high school English courses. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi for Women’s Voices (12th Grade elective), The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui for Multicular Voices (12th grade elective), March by John Lewis and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri for 11th grade American Literature (required course). These books will be implemented into the curriculum for the 2021-22 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich then began his Superintendent’s Report. The first item was the approval of his nomination of Dr. D’Ana Waters as Assistant Superintendent, to serve alongside Dr. Todd Bauer. Waters was enthusiastically (and unanimously) approved by the Board, and her 3 year term will begin on July 1, 2021.

Dietrich then continued through his report, with the Board approving Ready Math, a new K-6 math program beginning in 2021-22, and an updated Return to Play Plan. Athletes will not be required to wear a mask while “actively engaged.” Baseball and softball players must wear a mask “while in the dugout or not actively participating in competition”, Lacrosse players and Track runners must wear a mask “while on the sidelines”, Tennis players “while entering or exiting the court”, and Volleyball players “are required to wear a mask at all times due to the indoor nature of the sport.” 

The plan also includes the assurance testing that began on March 15 for Lacrosse, Track, and Boys Volleyball. These teams will be tested weekly throughout the season due to them being “potentially at the highest risk of athlete-to-athlete transmission.”

Dietrich then shared a brief timeline relating to the aforementioned Health and Safety Plan. On March 29, “strong consideration will be given to elementary age students” to meet additional requests for in-person.

“When we do the math, the elementary teachers and staff, by and large, were [vaccinated] March 11th and 13th/14th. The J and J [will have] had two weeks for full formation of antibodies,” Dietrich said.  

When we do the math, the elementary teachers and staff, by and large, were [vaccinated] March 11th and 13th/14th. The J and J [will have] had two weeks for full formation of antibodies.”

— NPSD Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich

On April 19, “all interested students can return 5-day”, provided that social distancing can still be met. Dietrich stressed that the district will continue to adhere to 6 feet of distancing wherever possible, especially in cafeterias (principals and the Facilities department are currently working to see if stages and potentially even outdoor tents could be used for lunches), but that some classrooms will have students closer together to allow more students to be in those rooms.

“If necessary, we can go closer than [6 feet], but no closer that 3 feet in the classrooms,” Dietrich added.

April 19 was chosen to given any staff who chose the Pfizer or J and J vaccine “plenty of time” to develop antibodies.

In previous sessions of public comment, parents have asked the Board if they will make very clear to any family whose student(s) may be closer than 6 feet together in a classroom.

“If a student is going to be in a 3-4 foot space, are we going to…will there be a process that alerts families, so they can make that personal assessment,” Board Director Jonathan Kassa said.

If a student is going to be in a 3-4 foot space, are we going to…will there be a process that alerts families, so they can make that personal assessment?”

— Jonathan Kassa, NPSD Board Director

“It gets a little complicated with the many classrooms that secondary students are in, but in the elementary grades, it’s really not that complicated at all, so I can assure that it would happen there…we don’t see quite the pressure at the secondary schools, but we’ll see as the spring comes along if that could change,” Dietrich responded. 

The Board concluded their meeting with Board President Tina Stoll reading A Statement from the NPSD Board of School Directors in Support of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders”, which can be found here.

For more info on Committee Reports, the Return to Play Plan, or the Health and Safety plan, view the meeting agenda here. (click “Meetings”, March 18 Action Agenda)

The next North Penn School Board meeting will be on April 6 at 7 p.m.