Board direction: Move quickly to live instruction

Board direction: Move quickly to live instruction
Posted on 09/26/2020

Good evening!  Hopefully you and your family have had a great start to the weekend. 


We had another excellent week of school, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.  It's been a pleasure to read numerous emails from parents where they are sharing the wonderful educational experiences that teachers, nurses, secretaries and administrators planned for throughout the summer.  Thank you for sharing your feedback - positive and negative, as it will be considered to make refinements to our planning, protocols, and daily work.  As we are one of only three districts in Bucks County that reopened schools with live in-person instruction, and one of the few in the region, other districts are learning from our reopening model.  For example, North Penn School District opened virtually four weeks ago at the start of their school year.  At its last Board meeting, the North Penn Administration announced they would be reopening for live instruction based on the “Quakertown Hybrid Model.”  We should have copyrighted our numerous plans and surveys!   


On Thursday night, the Board of School Directors discussed numerous topics of concern.  During the Superintendent's Report, Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards updated the Board on QCSD Reopening  Schools (51:30 Board Meeting). The report highlights “what is going well” and “what is not going well” in our reopening.  The report updated the Board and community on staffing challenges (which are significant) and coronavirus cases that our nurses are managing across the district. At the end of the presentation each building principal provided updates on their buildings’ status and student participation in the various options of the instructional model - virtual versus hybrid, along with what level of social distancing is currently available in their building.


A significant part of the Board meeting discussion centered around the Board’s guidance and direction for next steps in reopening our K-12 schools.  The Board passed a motion to fully reopen elementary schools beginning on October 12th, with live instruction for all K-5 elementary students who want it five days a week. This directive includes QCSD continuing to offer a virtual option.  The Board also directed the Administration to come to the October 8th Board meeting with a timeline for bringing 6th through 12th grade students back to 5 day live instruction as soon as organizationally possible. This will take some time to plan.


The Board also asked the Administration to bring a plan to the Board on October 8th to dedicate teachers to teaching virtually only.  Anticipating this discussion, Ms. Edwards presented a slide on the nearly 20 regular education and special education teacher staffing requirements for grades K-5 (1:26:26 Board Meeting).  On Friday, elementary principals and district staff immediately began work on what could potentially reshape our K-5 instructional model.  With a teacher and substitute teacher shortage compounded with fiscal limitations and another year of declining enrollment, the plan would need to be accomplished with existing teaching staff.  Parents of K-5 students will be receiving a followup email from their building principal within the next few days with information about the October 12th change to 5 days a week of live instruction.  Please note that the elementary daily schedule is still shortened.  After reading that communication, parents should contact their building principal if they want to change their child’s instruction model from virtual to live or vice versa.  If we adopt a dedicated virtual teacher model, parents should expect some K-5 teacher assignments to change and class sizes to increase for live classroom instruction. The proposed plan will be presented at the October 8th Board meeting for the Board’s consideration.  


After the Board’s decision to reopen schools to fully live five days a week instruction, there was a motion and discussion to lessen the safety standards and protocols of the QCSD Health and Safety Plan (2:40:40 Board Meeting). Currently, the plan follows Center for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education guidelines. The motion was to change it to follow the Bucks County Department of Health approach, which utilizes a “modified quarantine” that allows some individuals to continue to come to in-person school while quarantined. The Administration recommended against that motion as there is little evidence to support the lesser standard works effectively in schools, given that only Upper Bucks students are back in school in all of Bucks County - less than 15,000 of over 85,000 public school students.  Legal counselors to school districts across Pennsylvania have recommended against the Bucks County Health Departments model.  Important to note, our QCEA and QESPA leadership and our school district nurses do not recommend a change to the Health and Safety Plan and strongly recommend keeping our existing requirements intact.  The motion to change the Health and Safety Plan failed.  


Spectator attendance at athletic events:  Thursday night, the School Board also directed the Administration to develop plans for opening athletic events to parents and family members where space is available and social distancing is followed.  Masks will be required. Knowing the Board’s intent from a previous Board meeting and discussion, we started allowing spectators into outdoor sporting events at QNB Field this past week.  Our Athletic Department is working along with the High School and Strayer Middle School Principals to design plans for spectator attendance for both indoor and outdoor events.  Stay tuned for details from the principals and AD.


Notifications about COVID-19 cases:  I have also received some questions about how families will be notified when there is a confirmed positive COVID-19 test result in their building.  There are three levels of communication that will occur each time.  First, any individuals who are identified as close contacts (meaning they had 15 minutes or more of contact within 6 feet) will receive a letter notifying them that they will be contacted by the Bucks County Department of Health for contact tracing.  We strongly encourage all families to cooperate with the contact tracing process, so we can do the best we can to keep COVID-19 out of our schools.  Second, all individuals in the affected classroom who are not considered to be close contacts will receive a letter informing them of that.  Third, all individuals in the building will be notified of the positive case in the building.  None of the letters will contain identifiable information about the specific person, as required by health privacy laws.  If you receive one of these letters and have questions or concerns, please reach out to your building nurse, whose contact information will be included in the letter.  


A reminder and an announcement:  Schools are closed Monday - it is a non-instructional day and no live or virtual instruction will be provided.  Also, we still have open seats in the QCSD Pre-Kindergarten program.  Please contact Erin Oleksa-Carter at eoleksa@qcsd.org with questions.


Again, I am most grateful for your patience and many kindnesses as we reopen schools.  We receive feedback daily from parents, staff and faculty, Board members and others about what we are doing, the quality of our work, your expectations, and in some cases your disappointment.  Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of the commitment of the School Board and every district employee - custodians, facilities, food service, bus drivers, teachers, counselors and pupil services, secretaries and support staff, and the administrative team in providing a safe school environment and high quality education in such challenging times.  


Thank you for reading.


Bill Harner

Superintendent

wharner@qcsd.org

@BillHarner


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