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UPSD Delays In-Person Learning Until January
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Rising COVID-19 cases throughout the Upper Perkiomen Valley and Montgomery County over the last three weeks have led the Upper Perkiomen School Board to delay the debut of partial in-person learning until the new year. On Monday, the members accepted a recommendation by administrators for an adjusted date to transition to a K-12 Hybrid Instructional Model beginning Jan. 19.

            Raeann Hofkin cast the lone vote against the action item during a special meeting held on Zoom. The measure will keep students in full virtual learning until Jan. 19, six weeks longer than initially planned. Students enrolled at the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center will return to in-person learning on Dec. 7, according to Superintendent Allyn Roche.

            "I'm not thrilled about having to make this decision," Vice President Mike Elliot said prior to casting his affirmative vote. "I understand the ramifications. We're in a really tough position."

            The Upper Perkiomen Education Association favors the proposal, according to Roche. He said discussions between administrators and representatives of the teachers' union increased last week as cases increased.

            The confirmed linked transmission of novel coronavirus cases in the district, a three-week trend of substantial cases in its six Montgomery County municipalities, as well as revised guidance from the county's Department of Health led to the administrative recommendation to delay the shift to in-person learning. Schools would face significant personnel issues if they tried to go hybrid as planned, according to Assistant Superintendent Andrea Farina.

            "Our goal is still to get the students back to in-person learning," Roche said following his presentation. "However we wanted to be as safe and prudent as we could."

            A slide in the administration's presentation identified transmission rate in Montgomery County as substantial for the third consecutive week as of Nov. 20. The rate had previously been identified as moderate for several weeks dating back to the end of July.

            Cases in East Greenville, Red Hill, Upper Hanover, Pennsburg, Green Lane and Pennsburg reached 49 during the week ending Nov. 12. The same municipalities averaged 12 cases during the previous five weeks.

            The slide on positivity rates in surrounding counties identified Berks as in the "substantial" category for six weeks running. A case total for Hereford, the lone Berks County municipality in the district, is not available, according to the superintendent.

            Administrators are currently dealing with multiple cases at its three buildings where a small number of students are receiving in-person instruction. As of 1 p.m. on Nov. 23, the district has identified 11 active positive student cases and 20 active positive staff cases.

            According to Farina, 20 students and 19 teachers are currently quarantined. She said the district has only six available substitutes and that finding the seven others needed to properly staff its schools would be a challenge.

            Farina told the members that had the district continued on its path to partial in-person learning, the discovery of positive cases would have likely forced schools to individually close for a period of time prescribed by the state's departments of health and education.  "I find that to be particularly challenging," the assistant superintendent said.

            In October, the members voted to approve a shift from full virtual to partial in-person learning with an implementation date of Nov. 30. However, increasing numbers of cases and positivity rates led the county health board to delay that plan until Dec. 7.

            Keith McCarrick described his vote to approve the delay as the district's best move. He expressed optimism that a timeline has been created to get the students back to some form of in-person learning. 

            "Things are out of control," McCarrick said. "I support this."





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