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UPSD Returns to In-Person Learning
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Following months of preparation, the Upper Perkiomen School District returned to in-person learning on Tuesday. Nearly 70 percent of the district's students participated in the hybrid-learning program.

            Though the district had been 100 percent virtual since the current school year began in September, it felt like the first day of school, according to Philip Detwiler, a middle school social studies and science teacher.

            "It was good to get back to some semblance of normalcy," he said. "We were very excited to see our students, even though their numbers are greatly reduced."

            Superintendent Allyn Roche described the district's first day of in-person learning in more than 10 months due to concerns over the novel coronavirus as a success.

            "It will take time for everyone to adjust to the COVID-19 protocols/procedures but we are excited to have students and teachers back in-person," Roche wrote in an email message received Wednesday morning. 

            Administrators experienced a few minor bumps with transportation, including some bus routes running a bit slower than expected, according to spokesperson Nicole Gum. She described that issue as expected during any first week back at school.

            Overall, 2,195 students (68.7 percent) are currently receiving in-person learning, according to information provided by Gum. During regular weeks, those who chose to participate in hybrid learning will attend school two days a week. They will also receive 100 percent synchronous virtual learning two days a week. Each school in the district will be closed on Wednesday to allow for deep cleaning.

            Detwiler described the learning environment at the middle school – which requires everyone to wear a facemask – as far from ideal, but workable. He said teachers clean the desks in their classrooms between periods and walk their students to their next class.

            "It feels different,"Detwiler said.

            According to Gum, district officials have installed clear acrylic shields in some of the high-interaction areas, such as the offices.  Certain hallways and staircases have been designated as one-way to promote social distancing. Multiple hand sanitizing stations have been located throughout each building. She wrote in an email message that students were encouraged to sanitize as they entered Tuesday. Numerous signage and other visual reminders about social distancing, face coverings, handwashing have also been installed.

            Administrators also changed the layout of the cafeterias so that students can eat their meals while maintaining social distancing. In some buildings, they are spread out on the existing cafeteria tables. In others, single desks are utilized, according to Gum.

            Additionally, no cash is being exchanged in cafeteria lunch lines. All students received a free scannable card, made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to track their lunches. Self-serve items have been eliminated and the foodservice staff is offering only pre-wrapped or pre-packaged items, and all serving areas and desks are cleaned and sanitized in between lunch periods, according to information from the spokesperson.

            Detwiler, who serves as the vice president of the Upper Perkiomen Education Association, said many of his members are anxious to receive the coronavirus vaccine. However, he said most of the teachers feel relatively comfortable in their current working environment.

            "In terms of the middle school, I heard a lot of positivity," Detwiler said. "It comes down to how seriously the district is taking the safety issues. I have to give the administration credit. They are working very hard and taking this issue very seriously. They have been talking to the teachers and considering our perspective."






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