One month before reopening, here's where we stand

One month before reopening, here's where we stand
Posted on 08/16/2020

Good afternoon! 


Hope you and all of your family members are well, and you are getting at least some respite from the many stresses we are all under.  The Board and I appreciate your many emails of encouragement, comments, even criticisms, as Quakertown Community School District continues its planning to reopen our school doors.  We read them all to get a clear understanding of thoughts and needs of all of our stakeholders. Thank you!


At the five hour long August 13th School Board meeting, after studying student registration data with a 91% parent participation rate, listening to building principals about what social distancing looks like in each of our schools, reviewing staffing challenges, medical guidance from the CDC, state and county health officials, along with Reopening Guidance from the Governor, and feedback from parents, teachers, support staff, union leaders, and the Administration, the Board decided that for the first four weeks of school - which begins September 14th, all Kindergarten through 12th grade Quakertown students will be attending school either in an A/B hybrid or virtual environment. 


Parents who selected live five days of the week instruction option will have their child(ren) assigned to their second choice - either the A/B model - two days in school and two days in a virtual setting, or 100% Virtual. Students with disabilities and English Language learners will attend school four days a week if 5 days of live instruction was their first choice. Every Wednesday will be an asynchronous instructional day for every QCSD student.  If you would like to change your second choice from Hybrid A/B to 100% Virtual, please contact your building principal.


If your student is scheduled to attend the Upper Bucks County Technical School, it is scheduled to begin classes before QCHS on September 2nd. We are working on transportation plans with Levy School Bus Co. to get your student to and from Tech.  Also be advised, for the first time, UBCTS will be allowing students to drive to school.  UBCTS will have their own Health & Safety Plan.  Please expect that it may be different from QCSD protocols.  


We already know that this academic schedule will be an inconvenience to many of our school families! For this, I sincerely apologize! The Board of School Directors were tenacious in doing their very best to offer live instruction five days of the week for students who wanted it. The Board concluded that this could not happen safely for both students, and our teachers and support staff when more than 75-80% of our parents requested either the live or A/B option.  We would have too many students in our schools at one time.  We are working closely with LifeSpan, who is planning to offer before and after school childcare, and will share other related information to support your needs as best we can. 


Prior to making their decision on Thursday, the QCSD School Directors received three presentations - Substitute Teacher DataInstructional Model for ‘20-’21 Academic Year, and Reopening of School Building Analysis.  The Substitute Teacher Data presentation captured the daily challenge we expect to have in staffing our schools safely, given annual staffing experiences in the past.  For example, last school year - Pre-COVID-19, on average 31 teachers were absent across the district each day.  With a limited substitute teacher pool that continues to shrink every year in a non-COVID environment, the district is, on average, short eight substitutes daily.  In the past, our teachers habitually volunteered during their planning period to step in for class coverage or classes were consolidated.  Unfortunately, with social distancing requirements, and every instructional space - including libraries and cafeterias being turned into classrooms this year - past protocols will not work.  So the Board authorized the Administration to hire an additional eight building-based substitute teachers. We are actively seeking substitute teachers this year.  We can not have enough!  So if you qualify and are available, please apply.  


Another significant fact that the Board considered in its decision was that 195 (55%) of our teachers have school aged children living at home and reside in districts that are starting virtually.  All of these teachers are entitled to Families First Care Act leave, if they request it and meet the criteria that their home of residence is in a school district where their own School Board decided to offer virtual and/or hybrid instruction.  Right now, I am thrilled to report we have not seen a flood of requests for FFCA leave.  Our teachers have been remarkable throughout the pandemic and we need to sustain their support by enforcing our Health & Safety protocols this fall. Comparatively, 10 of the 13 school districts in Bucks County are starting off the academic year virtually, many due to FFCA teacher leaves.


Due to COVID-19, QCSD experienced a number of unexpected retirements. I just received another one yesterday.  Everyone of these teachers’ retirements is a significant loss of experience and talent to us. Most of them indicated their intent not to return this fall was due to avoiding the health risk to themselves and/or their family.  They will be missed!   We do not know yet how the pendulum will swing for our traditional substitute pool of teachers, so again, apply if you qualify and are available


Even further into the details, QCSD professional staff member concerns are nearly identical to those expressed across the nation.  From our teacher and support staff survey in June, we learned that 19% of our employees have existing COVID risk factors. Another 12% more have a child or parent at home that is immunocompromised. We must and will take every precaution necessary to ensure their confidence in our safety protocols and practice on a daily basis.  The practices and protocols you teach and enforce at home now - mask wearing, social distancing, hygiene and hand washing - are critically important to staying open. Everything you and your family does safety-wise during this pandemic matters. 


At the Board meeting, the Administration and building principals presented what social distancing will look like in every school, as well as some of the challenges and concerns each building will face.  The presentation includes all of the parent registration analysis that informed the Board’s decision to start the first four weeks of the ‘20-’21 school year with two options for students - hybrid AB and 100% virtual.   To be clear, live instruction for the AB option will not look anything like “normal” school.  The Board agreed to re-visit their decision at each Board meeting, after the school year begins.  It is their intent to offer live - five days a week instruction, when it is safe for both students and our employees. With the Board’s decision on Thursday, for those parents who selected the live and AB options, it will take one more week to determine which days of the week your child(ren) will attend school.  Expect to hear from us at the beginning of next week.


The third presentation - The Instructional Model for ‘20-’21, was a snapshot of what instruction will look like in the fall, and highlighted all the professional development and preparations our teachers are engaging in. Our teachers have been simply amazing in their PD participation for the new school year.  Your principals, teachers and I will get into much greater detail about that over the next four weeks.  In the meantime, our Office of Teaching & Learning developed a one stop website for you that provides short video clips of what to expect classrooms to look like this fall.  Our teachers will be ready and are excited to be teaching your child(ren).  


Thank you for reading this epistle!  We will be back shortly with more information for you.


Bill Harner

Superintendent

wharner@qcsd.org

@BillHarner


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