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UPSD Preparing for Possible Instruction Shift
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2020-09-30

            As the Upper Perkiomen School District inches closer towards a decision regarding a return to some form of in-person instruction, parents are strongly encouraged to respond to a new survey. The questionnaire, mailed out late last week, is intended to discover how many parents prefer to have their children return to face-to-face learning.

            Administrators hope to have all the responses by Oct. 2, according to Assistant Superintendent Andrea Farina.

            Superintendent Allyn Roche said the intent of the current survey is to learn how many parents and guardians want their students to return to in-person learning or remain in 100 percent virtual. According to Roche, it is intended to help administrators create the smoothest transition possible.

             During last week's board workshop meeting, Farina described the responses as vital to the district's planning for a potential shift from 100 percent virtual learning to a hybrid approach. She said the district does not currently have the space to go 100 percent in person.

            District officials distributed separate online surveys to families of students from grades kindergarten to five enrolled in the Upper Perkiomen Online Learning Academy and those in the same grades, as well as students from grades six to 12 participating in the Full Virtual Model. The questions focus on the students' experiences during the current school year.

            The survey also inquired as to whether families would send their child to school for hybrid or full face-to-face instruction if it is offered, and whether or not they would be utilizing district transportation at that time, according to information provided Tuesday morning by district spokesperson Nicole Gum.

            Administrators also sent an online survey to the staff inquiring about whether or not they feel ready to return to in-person instruction. The questionnaire is also intended to determine which factors are most important to staff in regard to a return to brick-and-mortar instruction, and what resources and technology they feel they need to return to in-person teaching, according to Gum.

            The school board members are expected to consider a shift during an Oct. 22 workshop meeting, and Farina said administrators will likely issue a recommendation during those proceedings.

            Both administrators informed the attendees that a transition would be influenced by the rate of COVID-19 in Montgomery and Berks counties. For the implementation of a hybrid model, cases must be between 10 and 100 per 100,000 residents or the positivity rate should be between five and 10 percent over a seven-day period, according to standards set by the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Health. When the case rate reaches 100 cases per 100,000 residents, or the rate gets to 10 percent, full remote is required.

            In Montgomery County, the number of new cases per 100,000 residents increased from 37.2 to 38.1 percent during the week ending Sept. 18. However, the positivity rate dropped from 3.3 to 3.0 percent. Berks County officials reported 78.8 new cases per 100,000 residents and a six percent positivity rate during the same seven-day period, according to a meeting presentation.

            Administrators are asking parents and guardians to fill out one survey for each school-aged child in their homes and indicate their grades, according to Farina. She said the surveys will be anonymous. 

"They are pivotal to our planning," Roche said during the Sept. 24 meeting, hosted on Zoom.

            According to the superintendent, administrators will utilize the feedback to help determine class size should the members vote to allow some level of in-person learning. The district will continue to offer virtual learning and parents will have the option of keeping their students enrolled in 100 percent virtual education, according to Farina. She told the board that teachers will be able to simultaneously instruct students in person and at home via technology.
            "We will continue to honor class rosters and class size," the assistant superintendent said during the meeting.

            Elementary school students would still get four days of instruction under a hybrid format. The goal is to maintain academic integrity, according to Farina.  "That can be challenging at the elementary level," the assistant superintendent said. "We don't want any loss of learning."

             She said the schedule for secondary students would look different.

            According to Farina, the student data is also necessary to inform the district on issues related to busing. She called it the most challenging portion for administrators.  "We need all the other information before we can make a decision," Farina said, citing social distancing requirements issued by Montgomery County that permits just 12 students to travel on a school bus.

            The assistant superintendent said the district is currently transporting 100 students with special needs who are receiving in-person instruction. She could not quantify the number of students attending the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center (WMCTC).

            To prepare for the shift, administrators have begun preliminary screenings to fill current job openings, according to Roche. He said the district has begun the process of securing the necessary long-term substitute teachers.

            Farina also reminded the board that a plan to move to a hybrid model would include numerous non-budgeted expenses that would be necessary should the district shift to some degree of in-person instruction. A previous presentation issued two weeks earlier recommends the addition of 10 custodians at a cost of between $815 to $905.20 per day and hiring one additional nurse at an hourly rate between $43 and $53.

            In terms of facilities, the administration has previously recommended the purchase of two HEPA filters, at a cost of $3,800 each, for school isolation rooms, a preventative HVAC review at a projected cost of $5,000 per each school, the acquisition of additional personal protective equipment (PPE), on top of the materials already purchased by the district at a cost of $91,000, and continuing to rely on the recommendations of an industrial hygienist.

            According to Farina, the district would continue to cover those services with a $70,000 state COVID-19 grant.


 

 

 

 

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