EMMAUS, Pa. - Exactly how the students in the East Penn School District will end up returning to school in the fall is still an unknown.

But the district’s Pandemic Coordination Team has recommended full in-person instruction for students at the elementary level, at least.

The team presented a preliminary plan for the fall 2020-21 school year to the East Penn Board of School Directors on Monday.

A final vote on the matter will be taken at a special in-person board meeting set for July 27.

Board officials say that they will likely have either an online streaming or Zoom virtual meeting option available for those who don’t feel comfortable with the in-person option.

Parents can expect another survey to be sent out by the district later this week asking for a full commitment of three options: fully remote learning; full return to in-person instruction; or a hybrid schedule.

The criteria for parents to base their decision on would be based on the health and safety plan presented to the board. Superintendent Kristen Campbell said that the district would like to have the survey results returned and reviewed by the regular Aug. 10 board meeting.  

Under the proposed plan, students in the elementary level would completely return to school as normal. However, face masks would be required, classroom size would be limited and students would be seated within 3 feet of one another based on World Health Organization standards.

Additionally, hall traffic would be one-way; teachers would move from one instructional period to the next rather than students.

Lunch would be held in the classrooms with pre-packaged meal options. Officials say that accommodations would be made for outdoor recess but with size limitations.

“Students will need this at the elementary level,” said Assistant Superintendent Doug Povilaitis

Physical Education classes for elementary students would be provided outside as much as possible, barring bad weather. Field trips would be canceled for the entire academic year.

Options for the middle and high school level differ, with face mask requirements and social distancing recommended as well.  

Middle school students will be given the option of a full-time return to school and a hybrid schedule that would allow for students attending school 2 or 3 days a week, on an alternating basis, with remote learning the remainder of the week.

The students would have in-person instruction based on their last names. Full remote learning will be a third option.

High school students will be given the option of either remote instruction or a hybrid schedule like that of the middle school recommendations.

Instruction and grading will be more rigorous than it was in the spring when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, forcing schools to close, Povilaitis said.

But for the plan to fully be put in place for hybrid learning, at least 25% of the respondents have to commit to remote learning.

The report also detailed plans for transportation, cleaning of facilities and protocols for those who may show symptoms.

“There are separation areas if students or staff who present symptoms while at the school,” Povilaitis said.

According to Povilaitis, parents will be contacted to come and pick up students who display symptoms. The district has replaced fabric screens in the health rooms with vinyl separators.

In addition, the HVAC systems have been equipped with high-rated filters, CO2 monitors and UV emitters.

Director Alisa Bowman said that she’d like to see a phased-in return plan starting with just the elementary school students then followed by the middle school students, perhaps a month later.  

“It’s like the least-worse option of a number of really bad options,” Bowman said of the proposed plan. “It’s like the egg is put before the chicken.”

Director Adam Smith suggested that additional input from the elementary level be added onto the panel.

“Only one thing remains clear is that there is no good solution,” Smith said.

Director Naomi Winch liked the option of phasing in students back to in-person instruction.

“I want my kids back in school but I’m terrified,” said the mother of five. “I like that option and it has merit to investigate.”

According to Campbell, findings from the June parent survey concluded that 67% of the respondents were “okay with a return to school” while 84%  of district staff felt “comfortable” with returning to school.

“Yet other families have great reservations with returning to school for in-person instructions,” Campbell said.

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