Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Is there a safe way to open TE Schools on August 31? What will our schools look like (or what should they look like)?

To go back or not to go back – that’s the question on many T/E School District parents’ minds as we inch closer to August 31 and the beginning of a new school year.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the District into a crash course in online education. And from what I have heard from parents, “remote learning” did not go well, to put it politely. Parents did a yeoman’s job in supporting the learning needs of their children while trying to balance their many other responsibilities during this very challenging time. However, it appears that many kids did not get close to what they needed during the shutdown and parents have reported student progress stalled significantly during that time period.

Distance learning placed a strain on all involved – it’s seriously second-best to real, in-person instruction. Ask any teacher, student or – maybe most of all – parent who tried to make it work. Keeping kids home and teaching them remotely is feasible for the short term. It is not, for the vast majority of families, a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely without causing serious strain. Most households simply aren’t set up to home school for extended periods of time. Remote learning is a poor substitute for in-person teaching and by most accounts; America’s great remote-learning experiment was a failure.

Too much learning has already been lost because of the abrupt school shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Students have lost ground and schools need to reopen. More kids will do better if schools reopen than if they continue online-only classes.

From the TESD website, “At the end of the school year, the District conducted a survey of parents, students in grades 5-12 and teachers to collect feedback on their experiences during spring 2020 distance learning and their thoughts related to future programming. … The District received 2,822 responses to the survey from verified parents, 743 responses from students and 282 responses from teachers.”

The TESD Distance Learning Survey results dated June 8 indicated that of the parents responding to the survey, 66% were interested in their children returning to school when it reopened (assuming safety protocol is followed), 18% preferred home schooling and 17% were undecided. As the countdown nears for schools to reopen, it would be curious to know where parents currently stand on the issue.

The New York Times recently reported that, “New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school years’ worth of academic gains. … Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections and direct instruction from teachers.”

As parents anxiously wait for schools to reopen, the biggest questions on everyone’s mind are how that can happen safely. At the last TESD school board meeting on June 29, the public was told that the District was working on reopening details for the 2020-21 school year; and that there was a plan for students to return to school or to continue to learn remotely.

Although specifics on the reopening plan were minimal at the June 29 meeting, the administration confirmed they were working on the details and that the plan would be available by the July school board meeting. It was then surprising to learn that the administration held a preemptive secret meeting this past week on Thursday, July 9 at Valley Forge Elementary School regarding its reopening plans. Although a select group of school district parents was invited to attend the small meeting, the criteria for their inclusion was unclear. TE school board president Michele Burger also attended the meeting.

The special meeting to discuss reopening plans was not listed on the District website, no agenda was published and attendees were asked not to videotape. However, one of the parents who attended the secret meeting provided a Zoom online update for Valley Forge Middle School parents later in the day (with an estimated fifty interested parents logging in). It would be helpful if parents who attended the in-person meeting (or via Zoom online) could provide us with the District’s update on its reopening plans.

With many parents anxious for updates on the District’s plans – you have to wonder why the secrecy. We know the reopening of TESD schools will follow the guidelines of the state as set forth by CDC (Center for Disease Control) — just not sure, that hand-selecting attendees for a secret meeting was the state’s intended process or approach. Inclusivity, communication and transparency are critical if the District is to safely reopen its schools.

How many of you remember the transportation fiasco when schools opened last August? With new delayed school start times, parents endured late buses, repeated changes in schedules, poor or non-existent communication from the transportation department and/or administration and some of those problems lingered until December. The TESD community cannot afford a similar outcome if the District schools are to successfully reopen on August 31.

To reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic is extremely challenging and parents need reassurance that the classrooms are safe. The “Devil’s in the details” and how well the District’s administration and school board communicate the reopening details is key to success!

From the TESD website is the following schedule regarding the District’s reopening plans:

Week of July 20, 2020 TESD will present a draft of the fall reopening plan and will provide additional opportunities for input from stakeholders.

Week of July 27, 2020 The Board will schedule a special virtual meeting to consider approval of the final fall reopening plan.

Early August 2020 Families will make the decision and commitment either to attend school following health and safety guidelines or to participate in distance learning. School officials will begin implementation of the Board-approved plan.

August 31, 2020 Scheduled First Day of School for grades 1-12.

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  1. The leadership of this school district has not idea about transparency and communication. Honestly, I don’t know which is worse the admin or the board. Why wouldn’t they want to throw the net really large and get input and feedback from the entire community? No, they prefer to handpick the attendees at a secret meeting. My guess is these people are ones that the administration can count on as cheerleaders.

  2. Unionville will present their plan at a Monday board meeting. The plan was available on the district website as of Friday. Since Chester County schools usually work in concert the TE plan will probably be similar. Be prepared for full-time masks, 3 to 6 foot spacing and full normal attendance (as opposed to a hybrid schedule).

    Here is the detailed plan:$file/School%20Reopening%20Health%20and%20Safety%20Plan.pdf

    Here is the presentation:$file/Health%20and%20Safety%20Plan-UCFSD%20Presentation.pdf

    1. Thanks Keith — interesting that there’s not a hybrid schedule. Although the TESD administration only discussed distance learning and in-school learning at the last school board meeting, I had heard that there was a hybrid model under consideration. Like UCFSD, maybe that is no longer the case in TESD.

    2. Keith,

      You say above, “since Chester County Scools work in concert…..the TE plan will probably be similar.”

      Does that mean decisions about school openings in Chester County are predetermined and already made and that meetings with parents and stakeholders are meaningless and shams to pretend like we have a say in the decision when in reality we do not?

      1. My experience is that all Chester County districts attend the same meetings ( e.g. CC Health Department and other agencies) and, as one might expect, exchange ideas. After examining the relevant data and hearing from experts, I imagine most districts came to the same conclusion about opening with 3 foot spacing, masks and full attendance. The West Chester superintendent said as much in a recent news article. Some districts will be more receptive to input from their residents than others and would be willing to modify their plans. I know there will be healthy and open debate at Unionville. I can’t speak for other districts.

        1. Keith,

          You talk about your experience and your imaginings and that some districts will be more receptive to input from their residents than others…..

          The Administration in TE pretends like they are receptive to input from residents. They make final decisions way before they roll it out to the tax paying public. They act like they listen to stakeholders. They do not.

  3. As one of the “hand picked” that attended the meeting, I can tell you that assumptions that we were all district cheerleaders is far from the truth. I’m far from a district apologist but I have children in different schools and I felt like they tried to have representation from as many groups as possible (PTO, BUILD, etc.).

    This is probably one of the most complex challenges we’ve ever faced as a district and widen that scope to modern history. I had some appreciation for what the challenges would be, but even that paled in comparison.

    Frankly, everyone has an opinion. Some people believe kids can’t get or transmute the virus, some think it’s no worse that the flu, that masks are vital, are ineffective, an impingement on liberty, a necessary evil, the only thing keeping us from a full on outbreak with millions dead. The government/CDC/WHO can’t even agree on preventative measures. 3 feet? 6 feet? 3-6 feet? So the district has to come up with a plan that satisfies not only the CDC and County Health Department, but the thousands of parents in the district. Good luck with that.

    The plan is coming shortly, they are doing their best and I do believe this sincerely. Give it a chance. But the situation is fluid and we need to understand that. Today we are green but what about tomorrow? Two weeks from now? A month?

    We want the best for our kids, for them to be safe and healthy and getting the best education possible in these circumstances – I hope we can all agree on that.

    1. Thanks so much, appreciate your first-hand information as one of the attendees! I am glad to know that PTO and BUILD groups were represented — were there any District teachers or nurses in attendance to offer their valuable input. Knowing how important FLITE is to the school district and families, was a representative in attendance? Again — thank you.

      1. Actually yes and my apologies for omitting them! Definitely someone from FLITE, Chinese American Club, at least one school nurse, at least one or two teachers…we all had masks on and were seated in chairs 6 feet apart so it was a little hard to remember everyone.

      1. Well, I volunteer a lot of time at my kids’ schools, I have kids in multiple schools, have volunteered with FLITE and TE Cares and outside organizations.. I’m not neighbors or friends with any board members, not employed by the district, am registered independent. So it’s not a Democrat republican thing. So as I like to say, I just work here. I do speak my mind and am a straight shooter.

        1. Were the teachers at the reopening meeting as TEEA representatives from the union? Is TEEA supporting the district plan to reopen? Are the teachers given a personal choice between teaching remotely or returning to the classroom? If the district doesn’t have buy in from TEEA, it’s going to be a major problem!

  4. I guess the main thing I take issue with is that some people were picked to attend, and some people weren’t. On the one hand it makes sense because obviously we can’t ALL be in a room, but why didn’t the district make a recording available. I know our PTO president went and I love her, but she didn’t go with the expectation that she carry our questions to the meeting, or report back to our school after. And I think she happily would have, but I guess there was an announcement about no recording at the beginning. We’re all really nervous about this and none of us know what to do. I just wish our administration made sharing with as many of us as possible a high priority. It would go a long way toward making me feel better about the fall.

    1. Yes, I agree with you — if the District’s reopening meeting was so important that the administration included the school board president, representatives from BUILD, FLITE, BUILD, Chinese American Club, PTOs, District nurses and teachers (as reported by a parent who attended), why not videotape the meeting and have it available for ALL parents.

  5. To be honest this just didn’t seem a meeting that lent itself to being taped let alone called a meeting. There was no agenda, bullet points, etc, they just wanted to hear our questions and feelings about things. I’d call it a listening session. And to clarify my previous comments, nurses & teachers were there but this was strictly to talk about it from our perspective as parents.

  6. Will lesson plans for in person and online education be in sync, allowing an individual to switch platforms if necessary?

    There will be countless times people are sent home either due to COVID concern, or from any of the other multitude of illnesses that typically occur in the fall. It will take a minimum of several days simply to exclude COVID as the cause of illness. It will be a minimum of 14 days, if positive. If one person has symptoms, many are affected.

    This seems to be overlooked. It shouldn’t be either/or. There needs to be an option to transition and not be penalized.

  7. Of course. Things will be fluid by necessity. It’s not all or none. Now that doesn’t mean Johnny woke up late so can do online today, my own kiddo would be guilty of that. But there will be accommodation for situations as you mentioned.

  8. So wait, did the district not present anything about their reopening plan? I heard that they talked about live online instruction, taking your kid’s temperature before school, and that parents could pick to go 100% virtual learning from the first day of school. But I got that third hand. If you guys just got to go to ask questions, I kind of get it (though I have questions too, and maybe they are the same and maybe they aren’t). I thought that maybe the district presented some of what they were thinking, in which case I would have liked to have heard that too, even recorded. I am glad you got to go, really. I hope it reassuring, and I hope you got to ask your questions and hear the questions of others. Thanks for taking the time to go and for posting your thoughts here.

  9. I’m a parent , my child graduated years ago, but still follow the TE school district. It is sad that transparency is still an issue, as is inclusivity. Who wouldn’t want schools to reopen? But safety first, science first, hopefully no partisanship, is vital. Children are our most valued people and teachers and support staff also must be considered. Our kids come into contact with everyone in the community and their family members of all ages. Just the word “handpicked” sends a bad message to start with, regardless of intention. PA is doing ok, not great, and we all want to keep it in that direction. Hope a safe school plan can be implemented, if not in September then at some point.

  10. I am very concerned how all will be protected, from the custodial staff to the faculty, bus drivers to our children. I don’t envy the position of the administration or the school board, but I would like to know what has been decided so far, and what details need to be ironed out. Will the administration expect our children to carry all their books with them? Will there be recess? I am assuming for everyone’s safety lockdown drills and fire drills will not occur, but maybe it’s mandated from the state?
    I would prefer our teachers be currently learning how to effectively teach online, have students in school whose parents need to work, and have daily synchronous instruction. There is no easy answer but there needs to be transparency.

    1. All good questions! I wondered how the cafeteria will be handled — will kids bring their lunch and eat in the classrooms? Social distancing in the cafeteria will be a huge challenge!

      I know I keep going back to the transportation department but what about the buses? Even if they reduce the number of students per row (maybe two rather than three) are we really going to trust that the bus company? Given what happened last year, who is going to be responsible for the necessary cleaning of the buses (the same drivers that became lost and had children on the buses 4 extra hours?) I don’t mean to harp on the bus situation but it was 4 months before that fiasco was fully resolved!

      1. I agree with all of your concerns, Pattye. Not to mention, kids in the elementary school sit on the bus for15-20 minutes before they let them in school. That certainly can’t happen! And our schools aren’t equipped for car lines. How will that be handled? Grades given a time slot? Free for all? No good answers.

      2. They said that the kids would eat in the classrooms, which makes sense, given the desks will be three feet apart. I’m thinking that this part of the plan is going to happen.

        Books were not mentioned but that is a great question, especially, for high school and middle school.

        1. Thanks for this update, good news about the children eating in the classrooms. Did they mention anything about the teachers? My question is – were the teachers given a choice between working in the classrooms or distance learning. There could be teachers who live with someone whose health is compromised or they themselves could become sick. I haven’t heard how the District is handling the reopening plans with the teachers – I’m guessing that TEEA, the teachers union must be part of the decision-making process.

  11. Let’s stop distracting from the big issue over some words (hand picked). The District isn’t taking input on what may be the BIGGEST decision made in years. This will affect a generation of kids. EVERYONE needs to be involved and the end goal is REAL LEARNING for our kids.

  12. Honestly there was a lot of discussion of what opening could look like – terms like parallel and integrated models, synchronous and asynchronous learning were thrown around. Can the school screen 1500+ kids as they come in each day? No, parents would have to be involved in the process. Was there discussion of what they hoped opening would look like? Sure, but they don’t even know if that is possible due to space constraints, staffing, etc.

    I hesitated posting here – I don’t wish anything to be misconstrued nor assumptions made before the district has released their official plan. I was reassured that whatever the final outcome is, they did consult many other professionals, and seem to be taking it very, very seriously from all angles. I do truly believe they have the kids’ best interests at heart – and I can’t always say that about other decisions. Hope that helps.

  13. The District’s transparency policy seems to be “Snitches get stitches” and after ignoring the public in the tax increase / admin raise / erb debate this gives little comfort. Parents should rise up and DEMAND transparency in discussions BEFORE decisions are made and handed down. I can’t believe they are giving ONE MONTH between decision and school opening for parents to dig into details and decide their kids’ futures. What if parents need to make alternative plans? This board needs to step up for us. Admins need to go…

  14. T/E failed in the spring with their distance “learning” plan and it
    Looks like we can’t expect much better this coming year. Looking at districts all around us it’s sad that such a great school district is being run into the ground by an Admin that should be replaced and a Board that follows blindly. The Board isn’t doing it’s two main jobs: representing the masses and making sure kids get a quality education. Sad, sad days in TE.

  15. West Chester University just announced a reversal of their previous decision to reopen the campus for on campus teaching. Yesterday WCU announced it will switch to ALL on-line instruction due to the spike in Covid-19 cases — they are the first 4-year campus in Pennsylvania to make this decision not to reopen on campus.

  16. I am concerned about the safety of the kids in all grade levels. How will this look and work. Each school is very crowded especially the HS.

  17. No one knows except the Admin. Everyone else (it seems Board included) will find out when told. This is what you voted for… do t question it now.

  18. I heard from a neighbor that there is a Pandemic Committee and Chris Groppe was leading it. Is this true? If so, does anyone know who else is on this committee? I looked on the District website but didn’t see a list of members. Why is everything such a da** secret in T/E? This kind of stuff should be on the District website! And this secret meeting should have been taped or zoomed.

    1. At the last school board meeting, it was announced that the District had formed a Pandemic Committee and yes, Chris Groppe was named to lead it. That was the end of the information to the public — although I have no idea of its members, I did hear that there was NO nurse on the committee, which struck me extremely odd. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to include a medical professional?

      I do not recall the Admin and/or school board stating any goals/objectives of the Pandemic Committee nor do I know why the information is not on the District website. It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic — the community is the last to know. If there was ever a time for transparency and communication — now is that time!

  19. Our superintendent asked the attendees over and over to keep the contents of the meeting “in the room.” Did the leader of our school district really think he could have a meeting with a large group of parents and have it stay a secret? Can he be that naive and out of touch? He is probably going to tell the board that he met with parents to gather input, that the parents had a hand in development, and that everything is okay. I wonder if it will be the same thing for the teachers? Our concerns are many, and it is far from okay.

  20. Was there any discussion about how school will be handled for children with specific learning disabilities and needs? It was such a disaster for our son who has a learning disability and I’d love to know if they’re planning to handle it differently in the fall for children who could really use additional support as part of their IEP.

    1. I hope that answers to questions (like yours) will be available soon. According to the reopening timeline posted on the TESD website the District will present a draft plan the week of July 20, which is only a week away! I am so concerned for all parents and the difficult choices they will need to make.

  21. Yes, teachers that will not be able to work in the classrooms will be able to take over the virtual classroom. They will also be hiring additional non-instructional staff members to watch the kids during lunches to give the teachers their required breaks and planning times. The teachers union was not mentioned but I bet they have been involved in the planning.

    1. Thanks again for this information! I read somewhere that the US expects a huge shortage in part-time workers and substitutes in school due to the demand — hopefully, TESD has sorted out the staff hiring situation.

      Do you recall if there was any mention made of sports – I’m guessing that team sports (like football) will be sidelined for the fall. I heard that the buses would be 2 to a seat vs 3 and that parents would be encouraged to provide transportation if possible. I have real concerns about the transportation department (given what happened last year!) — and who will have the oversight for cleaning protocol on the buses. You are being a huge help in helping us understand where the reopening plan stands. I wish that the meeting was videotaped so that all the parents could have the information.

  22. I’m sure TE will try to accommodate teachers who feel uncomfortable returning to the classroom by placing them in virtual teaching jobs. However, it’s likely there are more requests than openings. What does a district do then? My guess is unpaid leave of absence or retirement.

    The result might be a shortage of teachers nationwide. Not at TE though. TE would draw teachers from other districts.

  23. Berwyn Girl: You hesitate to post, but did and continue to provide supposed details instead of the community hearing about their plans from District leadership. That’s what will be important, not your perceptions. Why does it take this long for a plan that they have had all summer to devise? Do they really think 3 feet distance of desks is sufficient when the CDC recommends 6 feet distancing? Will they be wearing masks, even at lunch? These are most important. I find myself unconvinced by what you have shared that the District has a viable plan, and fear the worst for our students this fall/winter.

  24. History shows that there’s no doubt every consideration is and will be given to the teachers. Students, parents and especially tax payers are treated like second hand citizens, after thoughts in a system designed to cater to the teachers union. You have to remember that the Supt. was once a teacher at CHS. I got it from a very reliable source that as a teacher, he was a rebel rousing member of the teachers union who was loud and demonstrative about getting everything he could for teachers. The Supt. at the time co opted him and brought him into Administration so he could control him. We have an ex teacher as our Supt., 2 teachers on the school board and 1Administrstor on the School Board. You can bet that every single consideration is given to teachers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the teachers are the only seat at the real decision table. IMO, the meeting with parents and stake holders was a sham. You know that because iit was reported the Supt. repeated over and over to keep the meeting secret. He knew a meeting with that many parents in attendance would not be kept secret. He wanted it to get out so he could give citizens the impression we are included in the process. We are not. Nothing will change until we elect school board directors who represent tax payers.

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