Gov. Wolf Announces PA Schools WILL Open this Fall!

According to NBC Philadelphia —

During a press conference in Harrisburg this afternoon, Gov. Wolf was asked about a possible resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the fall and whether that would affect schools. In response, Wolf said the educational facilities would open in August or September.

“We are going to be opening schools, whether it’s August or September, that depends on the local school district,” Wolf said in Harrisburg Friday. “We’re working, now, school will look different. You’ll probably have more online learning and maybe less classroom learning, there might be fewer students in each classroom on average, that kind of thing. So it probably will look different.”

It appears the specifics on the school openings will be left to the individual school districts.  There’s a variety of ideas for what the schools may look like — morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate social distancing, continuing distance learning or at least partially, etc. etc. How will T/E School District handle opening its schools?

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  1. School districts face 4 intractable challenges in the fall.

    Space
    If social distancing is to be maintained the average classroom will fit about 15 students. If the average classroom had 20 students then the district has to come up with 33% more classrooms which are just not available. Even if the district could convert closets, gymnasiums and meeting rooms to classrooms then the district runs into problem number two – teachers.

    Teachers
    Those smaller class sizes require 33% more teachers. Where would TE get them as they would be in competition with other districts? The other challenge for teachers would be their health. Teachers would be like first responders in close proximity for long periods of time to a large gathering which is exactly the opposite of social distancing norms. Some teachers are bound to have underlying medical conditions (diabetes, advanced age, etc) that put them at higher risk. How many teachers will refuse to return to work. What would be the district’s and the union’s response?

    Transportation
    Social distancing might dictate one student per seat. This would require expansion of the bus fleet by, maybe, 50%. Where does TE get the extra buses and drivers?

    Parent By-in
    One of the scenarios mentioned by Gov Wolf is alternate attendance days. This solves the three problems mentioned above, but how can both parents work if students are at home half the weekdays?

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  2. I’ve heard about 3 models for school opening in the fall.

    Alternate Days
    The students are divided into two groups and the groups attend school on alternate days. (Mon, Wed, Fri, Tues, Thurs, etc) On the days the students are not in schools they participate in distance learning and self study. In this scenario there are minimal problems with space as only half the students are in school at one time and class sizes are small. Transportation is not a problem. There may be a problem with enough teachers to handle those in school and those at home at the same time. A problem arises for parents. Who is at home to supervise the students on alternate days?

    Split Shifts
    The students are divided into two groups. One group attends school in the morning; the other in the afternoon. Class sizes can be small and there is no space problem as only half the students are in school at one time. It’s a long day for teachers and transportation is still a problem. Parents are faced with supervision during either morning or afternoon.

    Open Normally
    School reopens as normal! Masks are worn, temperatures are taken, hands are frequently washed, close contact is minimized, schools are sterilized overnight and other precaution are taken to minimize the risk of infection. Buses have two students per seat and masks are mandatory. The risk of infection is definitely higher as compared with the other two scenarios mentioned above. But the additional risk is taken (1) knowing the chances of student death, if infected, is extremely low; (2) there is no additional burden on parents; (3) no additional teachers are needed; (4) no additional buses and drivers are needed and (5) no additional space is needed.

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