Board discusses optional masks and in person learning for the 2021-2022 school year


Julia Nardone

North Penn School Board unveils plans for next school year

In the highly anticipated June workession meeting Tuesday night, the North Penn School Board presented the current plans for what the 2021-2022 school year regarding masks, social distancing, and virtual learning will look like. 

During the first Audience of Citizens, reactions to the Board’s plans for next year were mixed. Some parents of elementary students were concerned that masks will be optional and because their children are not yet able to be vaccinated, it poses a risk to them and their families. Others were relieved that their children would not need to wear masks so they could improve their social skills and focus more on emotional health. 

Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Bauer presented the 2021-2022 school year presentation to the Board beginning with a recent survey about North Penn families intentions regarding in person learning. Roughly 89.9% have in person intentions, 7.9% are undecided, and 2.2% have virtual intentions. Click here to see the presentation.

At the elementary level, masks will be optional, there will be no social distancing in the classrooms. Field trips and extracurriculars will resume along with the continued use of virtual days for inclement weather or emergencies. For secondary schools the plan is very similar with the exception of the fully virtual options. 

Fully virtual secondary students can be enrolled in the asynchronous North Penn Virtual Academy with a NPSD teacher of record that will offer opportunities for students who want to get extra help. Fully virtual elementary students however, will have the option to learn synchronously with a North Penn School district teacher alongside kids who are in the same grade .

“I want to emphasize that this is what we’re expecting as of today bit we can’t say it’s absolutely said with certainty. We’ll see how some things progress.” Dietrich said making sure the community is aware that everything is subject to change. 

So far the timeline is as follows:

June 8: Presentation 

June 10-June 24: Formal Request for Commitment (Binding)

June 25-July 2: Contacting Non-Respondents

July-August: Planning and Preparation

August 30: First Day of School

Results were presented from the Hanover district operations survey that was conducted in late May. The survey gauged the North Penn community’s reactions to the past school year but has not been fully analyzed yet.

“Hanover will be delivering an executive summary with some recommendations and findings which I will present to the Board, along with Dr. Dietrich in an upcoming workession” Dr. Bauer said.

There were 5670 participants overall, 1692 being parents, 1166 being NPSD staff, and 2812 being students. Much of the data was positive, especially regarding communication, transportation and safety precautions. But other things were not so positive. 

“The areas where we heard some concern on less than positive feedback were the hybrid instruction and concerns about social and emotional needs.” Bauer explained while presenting the data through multiple charts which are seen on slides 14-16 of the presentation. 

A large majority of the Board’s decisions have been made with guidance from various health organizations such as the PA department of health, the CDC, and the Montgomery office of public health. 

But in terms of optional masks for next school year, the CDC has yet to come out with their guidance and recommendations which has put significant limitations on what the Board can and cannot plan. Dietrich has been conversing with the Montgomery Office of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia weekly on the matter to gain various opinions. 

“We are looking for them to give us that kind of guidance and they keep telling us that this is the best information that they have at the moment,” Dietrich admitted on how the chain of information affects how the Board plans for next school year.

Board director Juliane Ramic posed the question that if a student has to be quarantined for multiple days in a row next year without the ability to join a google meet, how would they get the instruction they need. 

“If you’re looking at a 10-day exclusion, then maybe there is a possibility that there’s an opportunity to listen in on classes.” Dietrich responded, suggesting that the streaming equipment purchased for hybrid learning this year could be used differently in future years yet this idea has not been formally discussed.

At the end of the meeting, HR Director Dr. Mia Kim presented the Substitute Teacher Recruitment and Retention Plan which focused on the reasons for the low substitute rate in the 2020-2021 school year, diversified retention, recruitment strategies, and financial incentives for North Penn School District Substitute Teachers. Click here to access Dr. Kim’s presentation

“It’s a lot of ideas out there that I do think that it is something that we do want to spend time and energy towards so I’m very hopeful that it’s going to result in a very fruitful outcome,” Kim finished on an optimistic note at the end of her presentation after sharing many new ideas for the appreciation of North Penn’s substitute staff.

The presentation was met with approval from all of the board members, with it then being approved for placement at the June 17 action meeting later in the month.

“I can’t express enough to the community how essential the substitute staff can be to the functionality of a building on any given day,” Board member Mr. Timothy McBain praised in response to Dr. Kim’s presentation. 

The next School Board meeting will be on June 17, 2021 in person at the ESC. There will be no capacity limit and masks will be optional for those who wish to attend.