Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD

The Results Are In … Two-Thirds Majority (67%) of T/E Parents Commit to Full In-Person Learning!

TESD parents were asked to select full in-person learning or 100% virtual instruction and submit the District’s form by March 3. As we learned at the special board meeting this week, the commitment was important to aid the District in the logistical details (such as classroom setup, bus routes, cafeteria/lunch arrangements, etc.).

The results from the parent’s commitment form are in and posted on the District’s website. Districtwide, the commitment is approximately two-thirds majority (67%) of parents are choosing full in-person learning and approximately one-third (33%) of parents are choosing virtual instruction.

The response to the District is clear — the majority of the parents want their children back in school full-time. Starting March 15, the schools will be open four days a week for instruction (Wednesday virtual only) with the hope for five days a week to follow. Once the schools reopen for full in-person learning the hybrid model will no longer exist although students can remain completely virtual.

T/E parents commitment to full in-person learning is shown in the graph below – Districtwide breakdown and also by individual school:

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.

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 days or 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

T/E Parents, Teachers & Administrators: FREE Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Program Starts This Week – “We All Want to be Included”

I was contacted by Maggie Gaines about an upcoming FREE educational inclusion and diversity series for parents, teachers and administrators. A District resident, Maggie is one of the leaders of BUILD T/E and a mother of two, including first-grader Margot, who has Down syndrome. (You may recall, the District made national headlines last year when the police were called about a supposed “threat” Margot made to her kindergarten Special Ed teacher.)

Inclusion, diversity and equity benefit students by exposing them to each other. They may find that they have more in common with other kids than they thought and is important for kids with and without disabilities.

If you are a parent of a child with disabilities and learning differences (or a teacher or administrator) you will want to consider this opportunity. The PA Inclusive Collective series consists of four 90-minute sessions through the month of February presented by three of the foremost leaders in inclusive education. These sessions would typically cost $100 per person but with grant and resource funding are FREE! However, you do need to sign up to participate.

For details, please click here for flyer and read the description from Maggie Gaines below. If you have questions, please contact Maggie directly via email at maggiegaines7@gmail.com.

We all want to be included.

The COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have hit students throughout the country hard. This is especially true of students with disabilities and learning differences, who have often been left out and left behind throughout this crisis. Many of these students are not only struggling academically, but they’re also suffering socially with little, if any, contact with their typically developing peers.

That’s why BUILD T/E is collaborating with parent groups from Radnor, Lower Merion and Methacton to offer the PA Inclusion Collective, a four-part Zoom series to bring equity and inclusion to our T/E school community. These district wide parent groups together represent families of more than 3,500 special education students.

Whether you have a child with a disability, learning difference or not, creating an inclusive school community benefits EVERYONE. It allows students of all abilities to develop friendships, peer models, problem solving skills, positive self image and respect for others. It can also lead to greater acceptance of differences among family members and neighbors.

Sponsorship from these parent groups in addition to a grant from The Radnor Educational Foundation has made it possible to offer this series for FREE to all families in Pennsylvania. It’s also free to all teachers, administrators, related service providers, and staff in each of the four sponsoring districts.

The series will be live on Feb. 3, Feb 10, Feb. 17 and Feb. 24 from 6 PM-7:30 PM. Sessions will be recorded and available for a limited time, so if the time or date doesn’t work, you can catch up later.

T/E School District, Radnor, Lower Merion, and Methacton families and educators can register for FREE at Inclusiveschooling.com/PA-zoom.

Educators from other school districts may also join the event. They may register here.

Will Conestoga High School Students Return to Hybrid Learning Tomorrow?

As the snowstorm looms today, the clock is ticking for the District’s high school students return to the classroom. If you re-read Dr. Gusick’s message from Sunday, December 13, Conestoga HS is remote learning only through today. The District’s plan is for the high school to return to hybrid teaching starting tomorrow, December 17.

But here’s the question, will the District have sufficient CHS teachers for in-person teaching tomorrow? It is my understanding that 54 teachers at the high school were out on Monday. Has the teachers union opposition to in-person now changed?

It is unclear as to why the safety of the teachers in the classroom is focused primarily on the high school. Shouldn’t any health concerns associated with in-person teaching be District-wide and include the those teaching at the two middle schools and five elementary schools.

The widespread support and concern that many CHS students have shown this week for their teachers is strong. In the past, only occasionally have students responded to Community Matters posts yet a review of the latest comments indicates the safety of teachers in the classrooms has struck a chord with many.

The District students took to social media and created a Change.org petition titled “Give teachers the option to teach virtually or physically”. The opening paragraph of the petition reads as follows,

This petition is in support of the teachers’ petition to boycott the school with their sick days because the Tredyffrin Easttown School District requires all teachers to go physically to school while students have the option to go hybrid or virtual. The primary goal is to force the school board to allow the option for both physical and virtual teaching for teachers.

In a matter of a few days, the petition has already received over 1,000 signatures of support.

Regarding the District’s return to hybrid teaching, TEEA union president Amy Alvarez read a strongly worded statement of opposition and asked questions of the school board at its meeting last week. Without responding to Ms. Alvarez, the school board voted unanimously (9-0) to return to hybrid teaching. Why did no member of the school board answer the union president?

No one likes to feel marginalized or not heard. Whether it’s a resident asking a question at a school board meeting, or in this case, the president of the teachers union, all deserve a response. School board, silence is not a response. The topic of the question does not matter, communication is expected, and answers are deserved.

There’s another week of school before winter break — will all students return to hybrid learning tomorrow, December 17? We understand that these are unprecedented times, but communication is critical. School board, our community needs leadership from you.

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A couple of notes: Since my previous post, I have been inundated with a firestorm of calls, emails and many, many comments. However, there are nearly 50 comments that were not posted because sadly their content was abusive, offensive or harassing.

In addition, the managerial board of The Spoke, Conestoga’s news source released the following statement:

School starts for TESD students tomorrow — Best wishes for a school year like no other!

COVID has made the start of the school year tomorrow unlike any in history. I can only imagine what it has been like for friends and neighbors scrambling around on a daily basis trying to keep up with changing schedules and settling on a path that is best for them. And I know that there are parents who have had to alter work and childcare plans because their kids are at home, learning online until at least October. There is so much that needs to go right in these next months if schools are going to be able to open their doors.

We are living in strange times and none of this is easy. One thing that we know for sure — there is no winning here, until we get a proven vaccine that will assure us COVID-19′s time has come and gone. My hope is that out of all of the uncertainty, comes an academic year in which students do not just “get by” but that they strive!

So, here’s to wishing each and every parent, student and teacher a successful 2020-21 school year – Good Luck everyone!

And in the words of Dr. Seuss —

It’s Official — No Fall Sports Competitions for TE Students, Maybe January 2021

There is news that Central Athletic League (of which Conestoga High School is a member) is postponing Fall athletic competitions until 2021. Conestoga Football Facebook page posted the following message this afternoon:

Shortly after this above message was posted, sports families in TE received an email from Athletic Director Kevin Pechin cancelling the Fall competition schedule for District students. However, voluntary off-season practice will resume on September 8 for students who have completed their PIAA paperwork. Here is Pechin’s email:

Gov. Wolf Strongly Recommends No School Sports or Youth Sports until 2021 – Where does that leave high school football?

The Wolf administration left the decision about whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two up to the individual school administrators and school boards. Apparently, that suggestion also applies to sports.

The governor’s office released the following press release regarding school and recreational youth sports. The Wolf administration is strongly recommending that school and recreational youth sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1 to protect children and teens from COVID-19 – but it is only a recommendation, not an order or a mandate, made by the Department of Health & Education.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education today jointly recommended that Pre-K–12 school and recreational youth sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1, 2021, to protect children and teens from COVID-19.

The administration is providing this strong recommendation and not an order or mandate. As with deciding whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two this fall, school administrators and locally elected school boards should make decisions on sports.

Highlights of the recommendation to pause youth sports until Jan. 1, 2021:

    • Applies to team and individual, school and non-school recreational youth sports;
    • Includes competitions, intramural play and scrimmages;
    • Continue conditioning, drills and other training activities on an individual basis;
    • Does not apply to collegiate and professional sports;
    • Gathering limits remain unchanged – no more than 25 persons may gather indoors and 250 outdoors.

The administration is updating existing sports guidance to reflect this recommendation.

Immediately following the release of the Wolf administration recommendation on sports, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) issued this statement:

Today, Governor Wolf issued a statement of strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until January 1st. We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics.

The Board of Directors with the PIAA will meet Friday afternoon to review the action. At that time, they will have an official statement.

Who will ultimately make the decision for fall sports in T/E? School board and/or administration? PIAA? Will the parents of the players have a say?

T/E School Board Approves District School Reopening Plan 9-0

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for parents, students, teachers and the administration to figure out what they will need to do for an August 31 start to the 2020-21 school year.

With little state input, TESD like every other school district in Pennsylvania, grappled with its reopening plans. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Gov. Wolf and his administration gave permission to the state’s 500 school districts to restart in-person instruction with a plan approved by the local school board. Sadly, this approach placed the superintendent and school board in a position to make public health decisions where they have no training or expertise.

From masks to buses to recess to sports, the public provided many questions about how the TE School District reopening plan will work.  And based on the questions from the original reopening plan presentation on Monday and then again at the special school board meeting last night, the families in our District are deeply divided as how to proceed. The administration responded easily to some questions from parents but others remained unanswered or with yet-to-be decided responses.

The special school board meeting began Wednesday night at 7:30 PM but unfortunately, the questions from the public did not begin until 11 PM. The ninety minutes of public questions was followed by school board deliberation and vote. In the early hours of Thursday, the school board voted unanimously 9-0 to approve the District school reopening plan as proposed.

In the approved District plan, schools will open on August 31 but with full virtual instruction for at least the first three weeks of school.  There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Parents will be given the option to transition to in-person instruction after Sept. 21 or continue with all virtual instruction.

(For full details about the reopening plan, visit the Tredyffrin Easttown School District website, www.tesd.net ).

TESD Reopening Plan Now Available – District Opens August 31 w/Remote Learning Only, In-Person Instruction after Sept. 21

With notification that the District would release the school reopening plan the “week of July 20”, parents waited anxiously all week. On Friday night, after work hours, the public finally learned about the plan on the TESD website. (Click here for the District’s reopening plan page).

Below please read the reopening post on the District website with links highlighted. There are individual links to the slide presentation, feedback form, FAQ, Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan and Continuity of Education Plan. Please make sure to click on all the links to review the specifics.

The timeline is very short for your review and response – you only have until Monday, July 27 at noon to make comments and you must use the highlighted feedback form link.

In my first quick review, a few points – the District will open on August 31 but with full virtual instruction for at least the first three weeks of school. There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Parents will be given the option to transition to in-person instruction after Sept. 21 or continue with all virtual instruction.

Classrooms to be arranged to allow social distancing of 6 ft. in all instructional settings although the District states that 6 ft. social distancing cannot be managed in hallways or on buses. Facemasks required for all students and staff.

One question that I have – In an in-person school scenario, what is the process if a student or teacher tests positive to Covid-19. What happens to the class? Or to the entire school? Are the other families notified? What is the process to re-close schools if there is a positive Covid-19 outbreak?

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Reopening Schools: 2020-2021

On Monday, July 27, 2020, the T/E School District Administration will present its proposed plans for reopening T/E schools this fall. The presentation slides on the reopening plans are available here.

The District Meeting to Present the Reopening Plans will be held at 7:00 PM on July 27. In accordance with state guidelines, the meeting will be held virtually. The link to the live meeting will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. The meeting will be live streamed and also recorded. Barring any technical issues, a video of the meeting will be posted on the District website later on Tuesday, July 28.

Community members may submit comments or questions about the reopening plan by using the Reopening Plan Feedback Form.

    • The feedback form will close at noon on Monday, July 27.
    • Comments received by noon will be forwarded to all School Board members for their information.
    • The administration will attempt to incorporate the answers to as many questions as possible in Monday’s meeting presentation.
    • During the meeting, at the conclusion of the reopening plan presentation, the feedback form will be available again for community members to submit additional comments and questions. There will be a short break in order for the public to submit additional comments and questions. The administration will answer as many of the new questions as possible during the remainder of the meeting.

On Wednesday, July 29, 2020 the School Board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 PM to take action on the proposed reopening plans. In accordance with state guidelines, the meeting will be held virtually. The link to the live meeting will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. Community members will also have the opportunity to submit public comment about the reopening plans at the Special School Board Meeting. Public comment submitted for the July 29 Special School Board Meeting will be read at the meeting, time permitting. The agenda materials for the July 29 Special School Board meeting and information on how to submit public comment will be available on the TESD website on Tuesday, July 28.

Additional documents on reopening schools include Frequently Asked Questions, Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan and the Continuity of Education Plan.

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