reopening schools

T/E School Board Votes Unanimously to Reopen Schools!

T/E schools to fully reopen!

At Monday night’s special T/E School Board meeting, the administration presented its revised reopening plan which includes the following:

  • Increased in-person instruction beginning March 15 (contingent on county level transmission rates)
  • A virtual instruction option will be available to families for the remainder of the school year
  • The plan will begin with 4 in-person days with 1 virtual day (Wednesday) each week
  • Potential move to 5 in person days as early as April 19

The school board members weighed in with their comments and question followed by many, many questions from the community regarding the plan. The questions were varied and specific and included asking for details about middle school and high school testing procedures between virtual and in-person learning, cafeteria/food service arrangements, six versus three feet social distancing in the buildings, and the list went on and on. I would suggest that all parents watch the video as soon as its available for administration responses to the specific questions.

Rather than phasing in the school reopening (as done in some of the other school districts), T/E will open all schools starting Monday, March 15. The only caveat to the reopening start date would be if the county covid level transmission rate were to greatly change in the interim.

After four hours of presentation and discussion, the T/E School Board voted unanimously (9-0) to reopen schools.

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T/E School Board Member Scott Dorsey Supports Reopening Schools Starting March 15 – How Will the School Board Vote on Monday, March 1?

The public is promised that the T/E School Board will vote on the District’s reopening plan at its virtual meeting on Monday, March 1, 7:30 PM.

After the declaration of “there’s no plan” by school board president Michele Burger less than a week ago, the priority discussion of the District’s reopening plan (and vote) is much anticipated.

The revised reopening plan includes –

  • Increased in-person instruction beginning March 15 (contingent on county level transmission rates)
  • A virtual instruction option will be available to families for the remainder of the school year
  • The plan will begin with 4 in-person days with 1 virtual day each week
  • Potential move to 5 in person days as early as April 1

Click here for reopening plan and meeting agenda.

We get it. Data has shown that remote instruction has impacted students’ progress and that most students are going to learn better in a traditional in-school setting. The science tells us schools can safely reopen and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has asserted that schools are not a major source of COVID-19 transmission.

With social media Facebook groups and lawn signs promoting a full return to the District classrooms, in addition to emails and phone calls to the administration and school board, the pressure is rising to fully reopen the T/E schools. The most optimistic among us hoped the pandemic would be over by now and a sense of relief of a return to normalcy. Fully reopening our schools would help that process.

Currently serving T/E school board member (and former board president) Scott Dorsey publicly voiced his support to fully reopen the schools starting March 15, leaving the following comment on Community Matters:

For the record I am a registered Independent. I have been a registered Independent since October 2019. I voted against the MOU. I voted against policy 1131. I voted against tax hikes last year and will vote against raising taxes this year in the midst of a pandemic. I support in school instructions for our children for four or five days a week starting on March 15. I regularly have made independent votes since I been a board member. I represent forty thousand people of all backgrounds and political persuasions in our community. Please be careful to make generalizations about every board member. -Scott Dorsey

Thanks to Scott for sharing his thoughts — your independent voice (and voting record) on the board will be sorely missed. For the record, Scott has chosen not to seek re-election to the school board.

Other community voices are showing their support to fully reopen the schools. T/E school board candidate Rachel Kill (R) took her reopening case to the national news this week, appearing on America Reports, a Fox news/opinion program. (Click here for video).

The administration and school board also heard from the group, T/E – Support for in-person learning – Giving Parents A Choice this past week. A growing group of nearly 800 TESD families who support full in-person learning starting March 15, the following letter was sent in advance of the school board meeting tomorrow. Please take the time to read.

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T/E School Board Meeting Last Night – In the words of the Board President, “We Have No Plan”

The important board meeting last night left many of us with a lot more questions than answers! Starting about 15 minutes late, it was two hours in before there were any comments/questions from the community.

Compounding the situation (and presumably to speed up the process), board president Michelle Burger had the District solicitor read the questions/comments from residents in groups of four or more. Residents take the time to thoughtfully write questions – and this is the District’s response, really unacceptable.

From my vantage point, for the 3-1/2 hours that I watched, it was an impossible meeting. For residents who attended the meeting looking for a straightforward plan forward for their children to return to school, it lacked direction and was no doubt disappointing.

The pandemic has been with us for a year, where is the District’s plan for going forward? Other school districts have worked on multiple scenarios, why haven’t we? At approximately 9:50 PM, the board president commented, “We don’t have a plan”. And therein lies the problem.

In the spring of 2020, the District set up a pandemic reopening group which included parents. What happened to that group, did they ever meet? Where’s that input in the decision-making process? What about the parents survey from last week, was that information considered and included for the meeting last night?

A few of my takeaway points –

(1) No vote on fully reopening the schools would be taken at the meeting

(2) There will be a special meeting on Monday, March 1 dedicated to the school reopening issue

(3) The earliest that schools may fully reopen is March 15.

I have attended school board meetings for years – and without question, last night’s meeting was the most frustrating and void of answers. Parents needed reassurance and to know that their voices have been heard – the school board and administration needed to say that they have been heard. The community needed to hear that you are really working on a plan (not that you have NO plan) and that you are committed to getting the kids back to school.

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What is the Reopening Plan for T/E Schools — Kids Need to Come First!

There’s an important school board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM – on the agenda, a discussion on updated Chester County Health Department guidance for the reopening of schools. Priority discussion topics include the District’s “School Instructional Model Plan” – How (and when) will the District fully open schools? (For agenda and instructions on submitting questions and viewing the meeting, click here.)

Many parents are pushing for a return to full in-person learning and data certainly supports the need. There is no argument on the many benefits of resuming full in-person learning — educational, developmental, emotional, and mental health needs, especially for the younger students. It is my understanding that most who support full in-person learning support the virtual model continuing for those not wishing to return to school.  If the District were to move to a full in-person model, presumably the current hybrid option would no longer exist.

According to a national survey by state in Education Week, updated Feb. 19, Gov. Tom Wolf has lifted a ban on all in-person school extracurricular activities and K-12 school sports. The guidance from the state level allows individual school districts to decide whether they will use in-person or remote instruction, or a mix of both.

Although the debate on whether to fully reopen schools should be science based, the issue has sadly taken on a decidedly political spin … pitting parents against parents, parents against teachers, etc.  Everyone wants what is best for the kids, but the kids only have their parents to ensure their needs are met.

Without question, kids (and teachers) deserve safety and parents deserve to have schools that are open, and safe. Neighboring school districts have successfully increased in-person learning, can that safely happen now in T/E?

There are many questions about fully reopening District schools, here’s a few of mine:

  • Will all teachers be vaccinated before the schools open for full in-person learning? If so, that process is completely depended on availability of vaccines.
  • Will the community transmission rates impact reopening of schools? Studies have suggested that schools do not drive community transmission.
  • Is 3-foot socially distanced model acceptable to reopen schools or must 6 feet of physical distance between students, staff, and faculty in school buildings be maintained?
  • Do the District schools have adequate ventilation?
  • Who exactly makes the decision to fully reopen the schools – the administration or the school board?
  • Where does the District teachers union TEEA stand on the fully reopening of schools?
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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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