The students of the Centennial School District are going back to school. Well, part-time. And only if they and their parents feel comfortable.
During a school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, it was unanimously approved that elementary students will return to the buildings on Thursday, Oct. 22, for a hybrid schedule, with secondary students returning Monday, Nov. 9. All an-virtual option will remain available for families who prefer it.
According to Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden, the recently revised hybrid plan includes more synchronous, or real-time, learning than what was previously proposed by the administration. This, he said, will allow more continuity between hybrid and remote learning. Students will receive the same instruction whether they’re in class or at home, and teachers won’t be forced to make multiple lesson plans.
Students will be divided into two cohorts (A and B) and attend school in-person two days a week. While cohort A is in class Monday and Tuesday, cohort B is learning the same thing, at the same time, from home. Audio and video technology will be set up in each classroom, allowing teachers to livestream the lesson and interact with both cohorts simultaneously. The cohorts will flip on Thursday and Friday, and all students will follow the current virtual schedule on Wednesday.
Whether a student chooses to stay virtual or opt in to the hybrid model, Bedden said the goal is to keep them with their current teacher. Also, if a student is in the hybrid option and feels ill on one of their in-person days, they can stay home and receive the same instruction.
Ahead of the elementary return, teachers were slated to receive professional development and assistance setting up their classrooms. The network was also going to be tested to ensure it can handle numerous users.
Thursday, Oct. 22 and Friday, Oct. 23 are to serve as “reacclimation days” for students and teachers alike, with the hybrid plan to be fully implemented on Monday, Oct. 26.
For special education students and English language learners, there is the option to attend four days if needed. This will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
While in school, health and safety guidelines will be strictly enforced. Desks will be separated by 6 feet; teachers will have a “safe zone” at the front of the classroom, which ensures no student desks are within 6 feet of them; and students and staff must wear face coverings at all times.
When asked what steps will be taken if a student refuses to wear a mask, Bedden said the administration will first try to correct them. If they still refuse, a parent will be called to pick them up. If a parent is unavailable, the student must spend the remainder of the day in a “quarantine room.” They’ll also be asked to remain home and learn virtually.
“We’re still giving you an education, you just won’t have the right to come in person if you don’t comply with the expectation,” Bedden said. “We can’t have them running around exposing other students.”
Additional safety measures include lunch in the classroom (all students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch through Dec. 31), and a deep cleaning of all buildings each night. Despite concerns from some board members, students will be two per seat on the buses. According to the administration, it would be too costly to acquire enough buses and drivers to accommodate one student per seat.
Target goals for a full reopening were also presented by Bedden – Nov. 30 for elementary schools, Dec. 14 for middle schools and Jan. 11 for high school students. This, he said, will be dependent upon metrics and guidance from Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker, the American Pediatrics Association, Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Health and other organizations. He added that these dates are flexible, and can be moved up if conditions look good.
This news was met with both excitement and hesitation by board members. Charlie Martin and Mary Alice Brancato expressed their support for a full reopening as soon as possible.
“Dr. Damsker continues to emphasize that in-person instruction, including full-time, is safe, as long as schools closely follow their health and safety plans,” said Martin, adding that his grandchildren often play with their friends after school. “They don’t live in a bubble.”
“A lot of parents can’t afford to be home much longer,” added Brancato. “I’m babysitting other people’s kids, and they’re not my friends. This lady couldn’t go back to work unless I did that for her.”
Jon Panofsky, on the other hand, is fearful of sending students back. However, 77 percent of parents responded to a recent survey that they want a hybrid option at the very least.
“I don’t think we should be going back and I have made that clear. I personally just went through a situation where I was exposed to COVID, and it was scary,” he said. “But I understand that I am elected by the people and I am listening to the people. Dr. Bedden is focused on the data, and I appreciate that. But I am scared by what has happened at Council Rock, where they have been back for two weeks and then had to close the school. I’m just unsettled because cases are spiking.”
Bedden saw both sides, and shared how he has a 15-year-old currently in school.
“I often wonder, what am I exposing my child to? That being said, if I’m going to use the science to defend virtual, then I need to stick with the science going forward and put aside how I may feel personally,” he said. “We have a service to give, but I also want to make sure that we’re giving the service in as safe a model as possible.”
Visit centennialsd.org/csd for updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org