QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - Appreciative of but not entirely satisfied with the administration’s health and safety plan for the start of school on Aug. 31, the Quakertown Community School Board on Thursday voted to postpone taking action on it.
The board voted 8-1, with board member Brian Reimers dissenting, and will resume discussion on the plan and possibly vote on it in two weeks.
Board President Kaylyn Mitchell said the vote postponement on the state-required plan was the responsible thing to do, allowing board members to digest the information in the plan and talk with parents and community members, and affording the administration an opportunity to come back with additional insights about how to bring students safely back to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Several board members noted that they had just received the plan, which listed detailed recommendations for social distancing on buses, hygiene, cleaning, educational materials on hand washing, controls on restroom use and hallway occupation, cold grab-and-go lunches, and a range of other specifics.
The main trouble spot and source of discussion for several hours was the administration’s proposal to implement an A-B format for secondary school scheduling, which involves rotating students between in-class and remote instruction at home.
Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, the district’s pandemic coordinator, said that the A-B plan would result in a 60% capacity model, allowing for six foot social distancing, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
School board members expressed a range of concerns about how to safely resume school.
Board member Ron Jackson said he was not happy with the plan as proposed, noting it was his desire to get every student back in school and provide remote learning for those concerned about the risks of entering a classroom.
Mitchell said remote learning may work for some families that have the luxury of a parent saying at home, but could present a disadvantage for others.
Among other things, board member Keith Micucci said he was concerned about the absence of data to determine if distance learning is as effective as classroom learning.
When it seemed that the board might vote to remove the A-B schedule from the plan, Edwards pointed out that the district could not accommodate all secondary students without compromising their safety and exposing the district to untold costs.
“Some things are possible and some things aren’t. We can’t serve enough lunches or maintain social distancing,” she said. “Everyone wants students back. We all want things to be normal, but it’s not normal.”
Superintendent William Harner, noting that a decision is needed soon for planning purposes, said that the plan not only protects students but also the district’s more than 600 employees, 200 of them facing heightened health risks from their own personal situations. He reminded the board that its decisions affect them as well.
The district plans to survey parents in July about whether they plan to enroll their children in virtual learning or return them to school with the possible altered scheduling.
The health and safety plan was developed by a 90-member task force made up of parents, teachers, principals and the district’s two assistant superintendents.
Mitchell acknowledged that the decision that must be made by Quakertown and other districts statewide is difficult.
“There are no easy answers” with all of the scenarios to consider, she said.