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UPSD Considering Three Scenarios for Opening of School
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Administrators in the Upper Perkiomen School District are preparing to start the 2020-21 school year under three scenarios. Two of them call for the students receiving instruction face-to-face from teachers. The third considers the possibility of continuing at-home learning.

            Last week, Superintendent Allyn Roche presented the school board with a series of options and contingencies for conducting class under varying conditions related to the coronavirus pandemic. He explained that the goal is to lower the risk of spreading the virus as much as possible while maintaining a productive educational environment. The superintendent asked the community for its input in the process.

            "We're not going to hit everyone's comfort zone," Roche said during the June 25 workshop meeting, held on Zoom. We'll navigate these waters together. We need the entire community to participate."

            The community's designation in Gov. Tom Wolf's three-phase approach to reopening will likely play a significant role in whether or not students will have access to the buildings when the school year begins Monday, Aug. 31. Under both the Green and Yellow phased re-openings, students will have the option to receive face-to-face learning or through the district's online virtual academy. Under red, all students and staff will participate in at-home learning, according to a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Andrea Farina. Montgomery and Berks counties both moved into the green phase last week.

            The phased considerations under green and yellow feature between 4½ and six feet of space between students in all settings, modified daily or weekly schedules, a requirement for students to wear face masks in certain situations, a limitation of activities in classrooms that do not support social distancing, a staggered lunch schedule in classrooms, a limit on larger group gatherings, staggered lunch schedules and the potential for modification of the school calendar.

            The recommendations, all subject to change according to Roche, were developed by five working groups that included district administrators, building leaders, teachers and staff members. The superintendent said district officials are absorbing and streamlining resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and neighboring school districts to do what is best for its community.

            "There's been a lot of work behind the scenes to get us to this point," Farina said.

The green phase conditions in the district also include limited visitors or volunteers and limited access to non-related school activities. In yellow, visitors to the buildings will not be allowed and non-school related activities could be eliminated.

            Both scenarios would include virtual learning. A recent survey of 1,150 parents found a significant portion who were not comfortable sending their children back to school, according to Farina.

            However, busing may be the district's biggest challenge, according to the assistant superintendent. She said complying with social distancing rules would force it to double its route volume and create significant financial implications.

            During the red phase, all brick and mortar buildings and grounds would be closed. According to Roche, district officials are working to create the potential for a smooth transition from one of the more open phases to red. He said the possibility of returning to virtual learning forced the district to make sure each student has an electronic device.

            During the meeting, the members approved an action item to spend $56,552.55 on the first of a four-year lease agreement and for 325 computers for ninth-grade students. 

"It's an equity issue," Roche said.

            A recent survey of 196 staff members found that 26 percent expressed confidence that they feel comfortable in teaching a virtual program. Asked to clarify, Farina said that number includes those teachers who feel "totally comfortable" teaching online.

            In the survey of 1,150 parents, 44 percent of parents expressed a willingness to have their children use public transportation and 20 percent indicated they would find another form of transportation to school.

            During the meeting, Farina requested that all parents express their busing preferences in a questionnaire that will be available July 3.





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