After a mere two weeks back in the classroom for hybrid learning, the students of Bensalem Township School District are reverting back to an all-virtual model … at least for the time being.
During its Nov. 24 meeting, the school board voted 7-2 for a return to synchronous, remote instruction from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9. Hybrid is slated to resume on Thursday, Dec. 10, when the Gray Cohort will be welcomed into the buildings. Special learners in the OWL Cohort will return Dec. 7.
The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing, and the board will revisit the topic at its scheduled meetings on Dec. 7 and 16. Board member Stephanie Ferrandez stressed that state officials can require all districts to close if the number of cases gets out of hand.
“That can happen at any time,” she said.
Board president Kim Rivera pleaded with the community to take safety precautions at home, and to not come to school or work while feeling sick.
“Please, please let’s all do our part to keep everyone safe,” she said. “We’re trying to do our best.”
Ferrandez echoed Rivera’s concerns about parents sending their children to school sick. She said a number had to be sent home with fevers, and students regularly rip their masks off as soon as they leave the building to mingle with friends.
“We had retired staff die this past week,” said Ferrandez. “You may not believe that you personally know someone who’s COVID-positive, but you likely do.”
According to Superintendent Dr. Sam Lee, this timeframe for remote learning was chosen because it encompasses the two weeks following Thanksgiving – a time when many will likely travel, see extended family members and be potentially exposed to COVID-19. The two weeks will allow members of the district to get tested and quarantine if needed before returning to the classroom.
Lee added that teachers will be required to teach from their respective buildings unless they already have an approved leave of absence. This was a decision made by the administration, not the board.
Regarding autistic and emotional support students, who do not thrive in an all-synchronous environment, individualized plans will be formed to allow for some asynchronous learning.
Additionally, the board voted 8-1 to sign an attestation required by the state. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine recently announced that Pre-K to 12 public schools in counties that have been in the “substantial” transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks (this includes Bucks County) must commit to safety measures by signing the document. This allows some form of in-person instruction to continue. If a district doesn’t sign the attestation, it must move to fully remote learning with no extracurricular activities.
Marc Cohen voted “no,” stating, “Anything from the state right now, I’m not in favor of. We need to get our children back in the buildings.”
Bucks County is currently averaging almost 300 new COVID-19 cases per day, which is more than four times the rate of a month ago. From Nov. 15-21, a total of 17 deaths were reported, and 46 residents were being treated in hospitals as of Saturday, Nov. 21, with three on ventilators. This increase in cases has exceeded the county health department’s ability to contract trace each one, so staff is prioritizing school-age children and the elderly population.
As of Nov. 24, Lee said five students and seven staff members in the district have tested positive since Nov. 16. He stressed that there is no definitive evidence of intraschool spread.
Parents remained divided during the public comment portion of the meeting. While some suggested the district stick to all-remote learning until at least mid-January, others have seen their children blossom in the hybrid format and don’t want it to go away permanently.
Staff members also submitted comments, including Cornwells Elementary School principal Dr. Shawn Mark, who is being treated for COVID-19 at Pennsylvania Hospital. Mark was excited to begin hybrid instruction on Nov. 16, but didn’t get to see her “Cornwelllians” because her condition worsened with double viral pneumonia. She is getting stronger thanks to the antiviral medication Remdesivir, but urged the board to keep kids home through the holidays.
“If you prevent even one person from going through what I am living right now, I would say that it’s worth it,” she wrote from her hospital bed.
Visit bensalemsd.org/ for updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com