EMMAUS, Pa. – After a lengthy discussion, the East Penn Board of School Directors on Monday night voted to move the district to fully remote instruction from Wednesday, Dec. 16 through Jan. 11.
The board voted 6-3, with board President Ken Bacher and board members Jeffrey Jankowski and Allan Byrd dissenting.
East Penn took a similar measure to move from hybrid to remote instruction for a limited time after its Thanksgiving break.
With surging numbers of COVID-19 cases, the majority of the board members who supported the motion felt the temporary return to remote instruction until Jan. 11 — the next time the board meets — would be the most prudent course of action.
The original motion made by Ziad Munson, a board member, would have started remote learning on Dec. 15, but Superintendent Kristen Campbell requested additional time to allow families to prepare for the transition.
While he said that he prefers to keep decisions to close the schools with the administration, Munson characterized his call to shift to remote learning “a unique exception” that’s fundamentally about public health.
Earlier in the meeting, he cited rising positivity rates of COVID-19 in the East Penn community and at-capacity intensive care units.
Board Member Alisa Bowman, who supported Munson, said she wants to see the welfare of teachers represented and stricter measures for when schools are closed.
Naomi Winch, another board member, also supported the move to remote teaching, noting that staff and students are at risk in school and hospitals are in a position of rationing health care.
Vice President Paul Champagne said he could not see a downside to Munson’s motion, adding that it’s not much different from the decision made going into the Thanksgiving break.
On the opposite side of the debate, Board Member Jeffrey Jankowski said the administration is better positioned to determine whether hybrid or remote is the best choice for the district.
Decisions over instructional models should be left to the administration to prevent more chaos and inconsistency, said Allan Byrd, a board member.
Also favoring the administration’s role in making key decisions, Bacher acknowledged that the concerns of staff and parents have been heard, despite differing viewpoints on the board.
Call for anti-racism training
Also during Monday night's meeting, a coalition of students, alumni, and parents called on the East Penn school board to require anti-racism training for all staff, in an effort to change what they describe as an atmosphere of racial intolerance.
During the public comment portion of the board meeting Monday night, about five people identifying themselves as members of the East Penn Coalition of Equality said mandatory anti-racism training would benefit students.
Several students who identified themselves as white delivered remarks provided by their Black classmates, who said they don’t feel safe to express themselves and are tired of being discriminated against, dismissed, and unable to embrace their racial identity.
Implementing anti-racism training would acknowledge an atmosphere of racial intolerance and allow staff to reflect on their own racial identities and implicit biases and challenge systemic racial inequality in the district, the students said.
Campbell thanked the speakers for addressing the board and sharing their perspectives. She said it takes a level of vulnerability to make comments at a public meeting.
Munson acknowledged that discussion focusing on equity and race “makes us uncomfortable,” which is why “we don’t talk about it as much as we should.” The request for anti-racism training is “a clarion call” to lead a more aggressive effort to make diversity a key goal in the district, he added.
Winch said she was proud of the group for speaking out and encouraged the speakers to repeat their message. Anti-racism training is essential to change the culture locally and globally, she said.
“Your words were heard,” added Bowman, who urged the speakers to continue to step forward. “You are safe with this board.”