It’s been almost one year since schools abruptly closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Last week, several local districts approved highly-anticipated expansions to their reopening plans, granting students the option to learn in-person up to five days a week.
During its Feb. 23 meeting, the Neshaminy school board unanimously voted “yes” to add a fifth day of instruction at the elementary level beginning the week of March 8; and allow the “red” and “blue” hybrid cohorts at the secondary level to attend in-person on alternating Fridays, which begins Feb. 26. On Monday, April 5, the goal is to have grades 5-12 also return five days. Through the end of the year, a fully remote option will remain available for families who want it.
“What has allowed us to do this is a huge hiring job by our HR department and some certified staff members to get lunch and recess aides, and the continued support of our transportation department, who is not only willing to drive five days, but also work elementary lunch and recess to be able to make that happen,” said Superintendent Dr. Rob McGee.
In order to prepare accordingly at the secondary level, McGee asked those families to make a firm commitment for the rest of the year as to which model of instruction they prefer.
It was stressed that this expanded reopening plan isn’t set in stone, and can be modified if COVID conditions worsen before it’s implemented.
“We are listening to our administration, teachers, taking it all into consideration and we’re all trying to get our students back in school and do the best for them,” said board member John Allen. “It’s an uphill struggle and it’s constantly changing. I just want to assure everyone that with an abundance of caution, we’re creeping slowly ahead … Our job is to educate our students. Our job is to do that in our facilities. But we need to do it as safely as possible.”
Also on Feb. 23, Centennial School District Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden and the administration announced a shift to a four-day option for elementary students, and an expansion of the current hybrid offering for secondary. The target date is Monday, March 8.
At the elementary level, students will learn remotely on Wednesdays, and attend in-person the rest of the week. Their current hybrid groups will be dissolved into one. Secondary students will stay in their two established groups and have one additional day of in-person instruction. Cohort A will learn in-class Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and virtually Thursday and Friday. Cohort B will have the opposite schedule. A fully remote choice will remain available.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 24, the Bensalem school board approved a four-day expansion for all grade levels, which is set to begin on Monday, March 22. In order to make this happen, Superintendent Dr. Sam Lee said the desks in some classrooms will be separated by less than 6 feet, but not less than 3 feet.
Like the other districts, a fully remote option will remain available. Families must select an instructional model by March 7, otherwise the student will automatically be assigned remote learning.
The Bensalem board did not vote unanimously. Rachel Fingles was a “no” because she wants teachers to be vaccinated before more students are brought into the buildings.
Board member Stephanie Ferrandez shared concerns about students sitting too close to each other during lunch – a time when masks are allowed to be taken off. An amendment to the reopening plan was proposed, which stated they must be at least 6 feet apart when eating any food, unless they’re behind a physical barrier such as Plexiglas. Lee said there would be Plexiglas, but Ferrandez expressed doubt that the barriers would arrive in time. The motion to amend failed in a vote of 4-5. Some board members were not pleased.
“I don’t understand sometimes how we get to these conclusions and how we can stand by them with any logic,” Fingles said.
Vanessa Woods added, “I’m really hoping that when this vote gets carried out and kids do get to return to school, that we do our utmost to keep them safe. I don’t think that this last request was unreasonable, but here we are.”
After the reopening discussion, Ferrandez expressed annoyance that a detailed reopening plan wasn’t drafted by the administration sooner. She called out board president Kim Rivera for allegedly not demanding a quicker turnaround time.
Lee broke in to assure families, “On March 22, we will be prepared.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org