As local, state and national COVID-19 cases spike, Bucks County Department of Health Director Dr. David Damsker is urging local school districts to not revert back to all-virtual learning, since in-school spread has not been reported.
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Neshaminy school board heeded his advice, and unanimously approved a four-day option for grades K-4, beginning Monday, Nov. 30. Students will learn in-person Monday through Thursday, with remote, synchronous learning scheduled for Fridays.
Superintendent Dr. Rob McGee noted that the current hybrid option, which allows students to attend in-person two days a week, will be eliminated at the elementary level. For families uncomfortable sending their children to school four days, an all-virtual option will remain available.
An email was slated to be sent to families in the days following the meeting, detailing how far apart the children would be seated in each classroom under the new schedule.
“That varies by school and by grade since each of our elementary schools are a different size and shape, since each of our elementary classrooms are a different size and shape, and each of our grades have a different number of students in them,” said McGee, adding that desks will be separated by 6, 5, 4 or 3 feet. “Parents will be able to make an informed decision.”
Additionally, families were to be asked whether they prefer in-person or fully remote/Plan D instruction.
“If you’re in hybrid and don’t want to move to the all-in, let us know and we’ll move you to Plan D,” McGee said.
The superintendent praised the Neshaminy community for having relatively low COVID-19 numbers over the last few months. According to the COVID dashboard available on the district’s website, there were five students at Neshaminy High School, five students and two staff members at the middle school level, and three students and two staff members at the elementary level.
In order for the four-day model to be successful in the elementary schools, board members stressed the importance of parents/guardians cooperating by screening their children at home, not sending them to school while sick, and instilling safety precautions, such as mask wearing and social distancing.
“We do feel that there’s an amazing opportunity for our little ones to reconnect with what it means to be in school, and for our kindergarteners, who haven’t even been in school yet other than through the hybrid. This is a good thing. We want that structure. But we can’t do it without the community’s continued support. We can’t,” said Adam Kovitz. “All it takes is for the adults in the room to stop being adults in the room to have us shut this down. Nobody wants that.”
Board president Stephen Pirritano pleaded with parents to keep an eye on their teenagers as well.
“They don’t listen, we know that. But if the behavior of our upperclassmen doesn’t change, and it continues to grow, it is going to force the board to re-evaluate how we’re progressing and bringing different levels of students back,” said Pirritano. “We want to move to everybody coming back in, but it’s going to require sacrifice, especially from our upperclassmen who may think at this stage in their life that they know better, but they really need to listen to the professionals, and mom and dad.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, one parent expressed concern over Neshaminy’s adoption of Damsker’s “modified quarantine.” This states that any student or staff member who came into direct contact with a COVID-positive individual, but is exhibiting no symptoms and has yet to test positive, can continue attending school/work. They must wear their mask at all times, and, while eating and completing other activities that require mask removal, they should sit away from others. This differs from the CDC recommendation of having the exposed individual quarantine at home for 14 days.
“To exclude someone from school or work, there has to be a good reason for it. And if the prevailing public health official doesn’t believe they should be excluded from school, we would be in conflict with that,” answered McGee. “If that organization does not believe they should be excluded from school, how is it that we’re going to exclude them from school because we know better about the virus?”
In other news, board member Marty Sullivan announced that during the Facilities and Planning meeting on Nov. 18, there will be a discussion and presentation on a possible new elementary school in the district. Also, Cyndie Bowman said Bucks County Technical High School is accepting in-person applications through Nov. 30.
Visit neshaminy.org for updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org