The 2020-21 academic year has not been ideal, to say the least. Students, parents and teachers alike were forced to adapt to remote/hybrid learning. Board members often met until midnight, grappling with the decision of whether or not to reopen buildings. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in Bucks County climbed exponentially throughout the holidays and January, seemingly with no end in sight.
However, as vaccines slowly but surely are distributed, there may be a light at the end of this bleak tunnel. After six months of either learning behind a screen or seeing peers in-class only two days a week, students of the Neshaminy School District may get to finish the year on a normal note.
During the school board’s Feb. 9 public meeting, Superintendent Dr. Rob McGee recommended a plan that would expand in-person learning at the secondary level to three days a week, and five days at the elementary level. The board is slated to fully review and vote on the plan at its Feb. 23 meeting.
Currently, middle and high schoolers have the option to be physically in class Monday and Wednesday (blue group) or Tuesday and Thursday (red group). So far, Fridays consist of livestreamed, remote learning for all. McGee’s plan would allow blue and red to attend in-person on alternating Fridays, in addition to their already-established hybrid days.
“Assuming conditions continue to improve, the Monday after spring break, April 5, we would say that would be the time we would bring the students back at the secondary level,” he said.
McGee added that these students, especially the high schoolers, will likely need to make a permanent decision by March 12 if they want this option or fully remote. He said that in order for the plan to safely work, the district needs to know exactly how many students will be in the building each day. Basically, they can’t switch between hybrid and remote.
“That choice now is similar to what other districts are doing. Most of them make their students or parents make a choice and it sticks for months or a marking period. This is essentially what we’re asking to happen at this point,” he said. “We need to have parents make some type of commitment so we can plan for what’s going to happen and give people full information as to what to expect.”
At the elementary level, McGee proposed expanding to five days beginning March 8. Currently, grades K-4 attend daily Monday through Thursday. If and when this plan is implemented, McGee said elementary parents have the option to move their children back and forth between remote and “all-in.”
He stressed that, although COVID conditions are improving in Bucks County, the situation could again get worse before the district launches the proposed reopening plan.
“The goal of all this is that, by the time it’s done, we will have clearly seen that this is the beginning of the end and it’s over, or we will have realized that this isn’t the beginning of the end and that will be clear as well,” McGee said. “Nobody can predict what society is going to look like in five weeks. Hopefully, that decision will be easier in five weeks. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of our circumstances, and things are going to continue to improve.”
Bucks County recently reported an average of 197 new COVID cases per day – the lowest rate since early November. While this is good news, vaccine rollout remains painstakingly slow.
“We spent the month of January trying to secure vaccines for our staff thinking there was a surplus and also thinking that school employees were next in line,” said McGee. “It turns out neither of them are the case, so we’re right back to where we were in the beginning of January.”
Having a healthy staff is vital to the plan’s success. According to McGee, Neshaminy had more than 30 employees unable to work last week either because they tested positive for COVID-19, or they were exposed and had to quarantine.
“That type of situation causes us problems on a daily basis as far as keeping our schools open, whether it be teachers absent without subs, whether it be bus drivers who are absent, all for good reason,” he said. “If those conditions don’t improve, expanding beyond what we have now is going to cause us to go the other direction.”
Visit neshaminy.org for updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org