in-person learning

Should Schools Fully Reopen in TESD? For 500 District Families, the Answer is Yes

As the one-year anniversary of school closing approaches, there remains much debate about their reopening. The issue of “when” and “how” to fully reopen the TESD schools is much discussed in the community.

There should be no argument on the many benefits of in-person schools – educational, developmental, emotional and mental health needs. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine recently stated, “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.”

A group of 500 TESD families have come together to support in-person learning and to giving parents a choice. The virtual and hybrid models of learning are available in the District; the group is asking for a full in-person learning option.

The following letter from the group seeking full in-person learning was sent yesterday to the school board and administration. The thoughtful, well-written letter does not seek to pit parents against parents or parents against teachers — but instead makes the point that the District should meet the needs of all students and their parents.

The concerns and questions contained in the letter need to be addressed by the school board and the administration. The request for a meeting with Dr. Gusick regarding a full in-person opening plan will help the discussion move forward. Their request for a virtual school board meeting dedicated to discussing full in-person learning would be helpful to all parents and constituents in the TESD community.

Please take the time to read the letter below:

February 2, 2021

To: Dr. Richard Gusick, TESD School Board, and TESD Pandemic Team

CC: The Chester County Health Department

From: TESD Parents & Constituents for In-Person Learning

Re: Fully Open TESD Schools

We come to you as a group of nearly 500 (and growing) TESD families. We are moms, dads, psychologists, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and more. And we are bipartisan, mask-wearing, socially distant TE constituents who want our schools fully open now.

It has been nearly a year since our kids were sent home for 2 weeks in hopes of returning after Spring Break 2020. Since then, we have ridden the ups and downs with you, knowing the unprecedented nature of this experience. We did so willingly at first, but as we look back at the last 12 months and realize that most of our children have been in person, in school for 30 daysor less, we cannot remain silent any longer.

Our question today is: what is our plan? We are the parents of your students and the residents of your district – and yet we are completely in the dark.

Here is our request:

  1. A meeting with Dr. Gusick within the week with a few of our members to discuss a full, in person opening plan (we will be contacting you for this).
  2. A full, in person plan for the rest of the 2020-2021 that offers a choice for a) all in person or b) all virtual delivered publicly ASAP.
  3. A virtual school board meeting within two weeks focused solely on a full, in person plan.

We believe these requests are well within reason, as well as within our Right to Know civil privileges, especially should any information on a full opening plan already exist.

Here is what we know:

  • The PA’s Governor’s office said elementary students should return to as much in-person learning, as possible, by January 25, 2021.
  • The CDC has said that if a school and community’s safety measures are adequate, that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that schools can be more fully open.
  • The CCHD has said if evidence exists that community rates are lowering, schools may transition to a three-foot socially distanced model.
  • Data shows Chester County Covid rates are consistently dropping every week.
  • Evidence is being released nationwide showing that transmission rates in schools are nearly nil – including CHOP Policy Lab who have said children are safer in school.
  • Neighboring districts are successfully moving toward increased in-person instruction:
  • Upper Merion, Spring-Ford, Sounderton, Central Bucks, Upper Dublin, Council Rock, Pennridge, and Wissahickon school districts: back full-time for elementary, with a few back full-time for secondary (or voting to implement full time for secondary in the coming weeks).
  • Radnor: surveyed parents in preparation for next steps and applied for full time elementary approval from the CCHD.
  • Wallingford-Swarthmore: voting in the coming week on their full in person plan. o Private and parochial schools in Chester County: open at a three-foot distance since August 2020 with objective success

What we also know: That TESD parents have no idea if a full, in-person plan even exists for our students for the rest of the 2020-2021.

This is not because we have not asked. We have asked endlessly and in nearly every instance, our emails go ignored. When they aren’t ignored, we quickly realize we have all been delivered the same copy and paste email back, with the “Dear X” line simply changed to make the response appear personal.

We also know we are the only district to have not had a full opening plan on the agenda for our first 2021 school board meeting. Peers from our neighboring school districts were shocked to hear this. We were also made aware that neighboring school districts have been allowing parents to join board meetings by video, so they can ask their own questions. TE has only allowed us to email in our questions so they can maybe be read by one of your representatives.

Please make no mistake, our group comes to you optimistic and hopeful to work together. We believe in the safety measures TESD has already put into place: you have succeeded keeping kids safe in school and we acknowledge the hard work and logistics that come with that effort.

Our group also supports our teachers. Parents and teachers have been pitted against one another in our nation’s discourse on opening schools and must not allow that narrative to continue. TESD parents know teachers have been given an impossible job and yet, many of our teachers and principals have been telling us for months they want students back. As parents, we know it is our responsibility to do what is asked of us at home and in our community in order to keep teachers safe. We believe we have already shown you we can be trusted.

TESD can no longer be a “great district” simply because of its staff and students. It has to be great because of our School Board and administrator’s willingness to work authentically with parents. The breakdown between your relationship with us has never been more dire, but it can be repaired – you just have to communicate with us.

Quite simply, we must move forward. We can all agree that our children have collectively sacrificed enough – enough for us and for you. It is time we collectively stand up for them.

Thank you and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

TESD Parents & Constituents for In-Person Learning

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