January 5th was the first Committee of the Whole meeting of the year. You can find the Agenda here. Read below for what was discussed. As usual, our own thoughts on each matter are shown in Italics. Don’t forget to raise your voice before next week’s school board meeting (see our post here on ways to do so), where critical votes are going to happen!
As usual, Dr. Lonardi started with an update on the pandemic. She shared that the CDC guidelines have just been changed but that Chester County Department of Health has not shared any update yet (although they might by next week); since we follow CCDOH, we should stay tuned for more updates. The biggest change is that quarantine time has changed from ten to five days from exposure or positive test, with the following five days being fully masked.
Our question on this change is: How does this impact lunch? If someone is returning from a five day quarantine, do they have to be isolated during lunchtime because they are taking their mask off to eat or drink?
Dr. Lonardi also stressed that technology should be going home every night, since there is the chance that a building would be forced to due to inadequate staff. Because the CDC recommends in-person instruction, any closures would be building-by-building only. The district is appreciative of families and staff having some flexibility during this time. There is a sub shortage and Chester County COVID numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before.
Some Board members, especially Director Gurthy, raised the question of turning on Zoom for kids who have to stay home. Teachers are committed to catching kids up when they return, and are being asked to make sure that Schoology is updated. But the question was raised that since kids could be out for up to ten days (e.g. if they test positive on their fifth day of quarantine), it could be helpful.
Dr. Lonardi expressed concern with this proposal. She says that teachers rarely stand still to “talk at” kids; they move around the room and engage the class dynamically in a way that makes it impossible to engage remote learners or even stay within earshot. Her feeling is that there wouldn’t be much benefit from just listening. It might just make everyone frustrated.
Some board members wondered if it would be a step towards accommodating kids who are kept out. It could be better than nothing. The technology is in place and wouldn’t be hard to implement. It would be an incentive for people trying to do the right thing during a time when rules are not being adequately followed. It could alleviate some stress, especially for older students, at having to miss class.
Other points: Director Ghrayeb suggested that teachers could be allowed to make a judgment call whether or not it could benefit their kids, or discuss doing it on a building by building basis; the concern was that this would pit teachers against each other. There will be some discussion with principals and teachers on this point.
Later Start Times
Later start times have been added into Dr. Lonardi’s 2022 goals from the board to investigate. She is having her team talk to other school districts in the area about what has worked and what hasn’t, and will be sending out a parent survey, followed by some public parent meetings in Feb/March/April. Her goal is to make a recommendation with a couple of options by May. She is also concurrently looking at transportation.
We are delighted to hear of movement on later start times and will stay tuned for updates.
Each school board director is responsible for leading/participating in a committee. Curriculum, Facilities, Finance, Governance (as needed), Personnel, Policy and Technology items are all discussed at the Committee of the Whole meeting. The reports that were shared last night are shown in the minutes here.
Dr. Reed presented the proposed 2022-2023 calendar. Following recent discussion, the calendar now includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, and Eid. Eid falls on a Saturday next year, so there was some discussion about how best to observe the holiday. It had been suggested prior to this meeting that the following Monday would be given off, since Eid is a three-day celebration. However there is community input from those observing Eid suggesting that Friday would be better. Directors Ghrayeb and Wisdom would like to hear from the community whether Monday or Friday would be most appropriate.
Monday does conflict with PSSAs, so if that day is not given off, any students observing the holiday would have to make up the PSSA testing. Dr. Lonardi said that the calendar remains up for discussion and hoped for input from public commenters before voting next week.
It was also suggested to include a notation for Veteran’s Day in the DASD calendar, if the calendar will now include notations for holidays and not only for dates the schools are closed.
Construction Discussion: 5/6 Center, McCausland Property, and Full-Day Kindergarten
There was vigorous debate tonight about how to implement Full-Day Kindergarten, add capacity for projected enrollment growth, and improve the learning conditions at our elementary schools. For anyone who missed it, over the last few meetings various plans have been proposed. The two plans garnering the most conversation are the Superintendent’s proposal to construct a new 5-6 Center at Bradford Heights, among other changes, and Director Bertone’s proposal to construct a new K-5 school on the McCausland Property, plus several building additions. Since the last discussion, new board members have been getting up to speed and have been offered the chance to tour the current schools and see potential new building sites.
There are several issues being discussed at the same time: elementary buildings that need to be renovated because the facilities are outdated, elementary buildings that really need more room, the projected population growth, Full-Day Kindergarten, bus times, single-grade schools like Marsh Creek, the most fiscally responsible plan, the most equitable plan, and the preferences of local members.
Everyone agrees that construction is necessary to accommodate population growth and Full-Day Kindergarten. There simply isn’t room right now. Everyone also agrees that some renovations to existing elementary schools are needed. The Board has not reached anything like consensus on the best way forward. Some are very much for the superintendent’s proposal, while others would prefer tackling additions school-by-school. A school-by-school approach would take upwards of 5 years, and some arguments were made for finding a way to offer Full-Day Kindergarten ahead of all of the buildings being fully finished (can a church facility host some classes?), while others wanted to take a more comprehensive approach to finding all of the gaps and designing solutions to fill them before we get started on anything.
It’s a complex dilemma with good points (and strong opinions) on all sides. To their credit, all board members were vigorously engaged in the discussion and appreciative of the significance of the decision. There are many more nuances to these issues. We have dedicated a separate post to summarizing the history and choice.
Somewhat incredibly, given the lack of consensus, this question comes for a vote next week! Please take time to email your Board representative and even have a phone call during which you can discuss the pros and cons associated with different courses of action.
There were four main topics of public comment tonight:
Several members of the Muslim community spoke up in appreciation of Eid being added to the school calendar, and requested that the Muslim lunar calendar be followed (published on moonsighting.com), not Google (the dates discussed earlier in the meeting are allegedly from Google). According to this calendar, April 21, 2023 is when Eid will be celebrated, which has been shared with admin in an email, along with the dates for the next five years. West Chester and T/E school districts will be following this same protocol. There were also comments regarding sharing traditions around the holiday and everyone is excited to volunteer with DEI Director Justin Brown to help with this.
Mic Drop Moment: “2 for 1” Putting “pen to paper” by adding a new holiday to the calendar is just part of inclusion. The other part being really believing that it is the right thing to do. The children who will be positively impacted by this move by the district will remember feeling seen by this administration and will be encouraged to include other groups when they are the ones in power. Furthermore, all children will learn to make space for one another’s holidays and cultures—a beautiful vision for our children. We are preparing them now to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the future and it’s exciting to witness!
Several parents spoke about technology fees. When these fees were first communicated with parents, they were explained as an optional fee for insurance, which parents were welcome to ignore if they were willing to risk having to pay for repairs on their own if their device was damaged.
Parents shared that they are now receiving notices they have to pay for back fees from those years now, for each of their children, and that they are receiving collection emails, having prom tickets withheld, etc. This is creating a lot of confusion and anxiety, especially for families with multiple kids and during hard financial times. We’ll take it as an action item to get some more information on this and share it back with you.
Many families spoke out against building a new 5/6 center on the Bradford Heights property. Their concerns include: traffic on dangerous roads, safety for those who walk to school, feasibility of regrading the hills for athletic fields, confusion about how the playground would coexist for both schools and the bus loop, questions about the aesthetics, and concern for lost open space. We will continue to solicit West Bradford neighbors for their perspective on this and share accordingly.
Virtual learning/COVID Mitigation
Sreedhar Gudala created a petition that has amassed over 800 signatures in less than four days. Parents spoke up in concern for the rising COVID numbers and their children getting sick, especially those who are not able to get boosters yet or who have immunocompromised family members living with them. They would like the option of kids to temporarily listen to their classes from home in order to keep them home and create more space in the schools, since there is no social distancing or masks during lunch and contact tracing is nearly impossible. These families realize that learning from home is not ideal but are willing to compromise to keep the schools open, and also hope that the schools will go easy on the attendance policy as long as kids get their work done. They also feel that families could use an incentive to follow the quarantine rules, since many are not keeping their exposed kids home if they are asymptomatic, even though they could still be contagious. You can sign Sreedhar’s petition at this link and/or email your board member (see Call to Action below). Tredyfferin/Easttown School has just enabled “Temporary Passive Camera Access” which seems like a practical option (see policy here), but it will take some feedback from the community/staff on whether or not parents want it and teachers hate the idea. We’ll post more about this as we find out how the discussions are going.
Call to Action
As of December of last year, there are now two new school board members, as well as a new president and vice president. Now is the time to start communicating with them. All of them understand how valuable community insight is. See our blog post on how to raise your voice. Hope to see you at the school board meeting on January 12th!