The Downingtown Area School Board meeting was held on Wednesday, January 12. You can find the agenda here and watch a livestream of the meeting here on YouTube.
As usual, our own take on things and potential action items for parents are in italics.
The meeting began with public comment regarding action items, i.e. anything that the Board will be deciding at this meeting. The comment was focused on the addition of a school holiday for the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Many Muslim members of the DASD community movingly described the role that Eid plays in their culture. Several children—DASD students—shared their excitement for their school friends to recognize and know about their own holidays and traditions. They spoke to request that the School Board approve adding Eid as an official school holiday beginning next school year. (Spoiler alert–yes, the Board did add Eid to the calendar at this meeting!)
Dr. Lonardi began by recognizing the new DASD School Board, reading a letter of appreciation and giving the board members small gifts.
Note: one seat on the School Board still remains unfilled at the time of writing. There is a legal dispute regarding inconsistent practices concerning mail ballots that is awaiting resolution before the outcome can be certified.
Next, Dr. Lonardi shared a Pandemic update. Chester County metrics as of the meeting were over 1,160 cases per 100k with a positivity rate over 28%. The Chester County Health Department has updated its policies regarding who has to quarantine. (Quarantine=exposed to someone with COVID; isolate=tested positive.) If you are fully vaccinated (recently vaccinated or recently boosted), you do not need to leave school to quarantine so long as you are asymptomatic and masked. You also do not need to leave school to quarantine if you are masked and have already tested positive for Covid within the last 90 days. If you are not fully vaccinated, or not vaccinated at all, you must quarantine at home for 5 days and then strictly mask. Of note—at DASD facilities, anyone with a mask exemption must quarantine a full 10 days to comply with the strict masking requirements of quarantine.
The superintendent also shared that upcoming changes to close-contact rules might be coming soon.
Update: the week after this meeting, on January 20, DASD announced they will no longer be doing any contact tracing for any cases or notifying any close contacts. This is a county-wide change as the Chester County Health Department can no longer keep pace with contact tracing and is increasingly relying on individuals to manage their own contact-tracing. Please see our recent post for more details and possible action steps.
The district will continue to update the DASD Dashboard daily regarding in-school cases. Current recommendations are to keep schools open and children in schools, and they do not recommend or support any virtual learning except for Cyber Academy students.
Although other districts such as Tredyffrin/Easttown and West Chester are enabling “passive camera access”, DASD admin and board members are reluctant to ask teachers to turn on their cameras to enable students who are at home to follow along. They are discussing the possibility of making virtual lessons created for DCA available to kids who need them, but this will need to be worked out. If you are concerned about your child falling behind or getting anxious about missing school, you are encouraged to reach out to their principals and admin to make sure that their needs are met.
Student representatives from the three high schools shared updates on student life and activities at each school. Of note, the Marching Band recently returned from a successful trip to California to perform at the Rose Bowl Parade. Members of the board then shared brief updates from various committees. These reports are available online here.
The Board discloses all proposed purchases and financial decisions at the Committee of the Whole meeting and approves most of those “routine” decisions in one vote. You can view the Consent Agenda here. Of note, the Board approved the appointment of two new Assistant Principals in the middle schools.
The Board continued to vote on specific financial decisions:
- They agreed to cap any possible real estate tax increase at no more than 3.4%.
- They agreed to several financial commitments regarding upcoming additions at the high schools—traffic studies, designs, surveys, legal services, etc.
- The Board is including plans for a new gymnasium at Lionville Elementary in the scope as it shares a campus with the high school.
- They approved next year’s purchase of new laptops and tablets for new students.
The Board unanimously agreed to add Eid as a holiday in the upcoming calendar. However, adding a day off in April poses some logistical challenges: ensuring students achieve the requirements for days in school, honoring contracted teacher schedules, and protecting instructional days before standardized testing.
The Board explored different ways to adjust the calendar, such as starting earlier, ending later, or shortening spring recess. To adjust this draft calendar, they ultimately decided to take April 21 off for Eid, make April 10 (Easter Monday) a school day (leaving a lengthy vacation leading into Easter), and move the last student day to June 9.
You may recall there has been some concern about three specific books in the catalog at Downingtown West High School. The books were removed from the shelf due to parent outcry, in spite of the review form not being filled out and the review policy explicitly stating that during reviews, materials should remain available to students. Please see our upcoming blog post for more detail.
Following review, these books were determined to be educationally suitable and they were returned to the shelves.
This evening, Dr. Chance revealed an overview of a comprehensive process for selecting, acquiring and reviewing new titles.
Proposed titles are gathered from sources such as award lists and scholarly journals. School librarians will always be the first line of review for books and will select titles with an eye to the current collection, interest, and budget. They will check new material and for any content that could raise questions, they will then convene a diverse committee of colleagues (for example, counselors). Drawing from case law language, titles that fail these two tests will be eliminated from consideration to add to our library shelves:
- Titles that are determined to be pervasively vulgar and/or contain content determined to be morbid, degrading, or excessively interested in sexual matters
- A work that is not educationally suitable which taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, historical/political, or scientific value
It was reiterated that during a challenge of existing titles, the books will not be pulled from circulation until the review is complete, per the existing book challenge policy.
To help parents understand what’s in the libraries, librarians will:
- Make the genres and subject tags more transparent in the online catalog—including content warnings, lexile level, whether it’s a Young Adult or Adult Crossover book.
- Remind parents that via their student’s Classlink, they can access their child’s circulation record.
- Communicate that any parent may make a written request to the library of any specific titles that their own child may not check out. An alert can be added to that student’s account to ensure that specific book is not checked out by them.
The Board held an extended Q and A with Dr. Chance on the subject and we encourage you to watch the full livestream starting around 1:22:28 if you are interested in more detail on this matter.
Full Day K/Construction Developments
Over the past weeks, it has become apparent that there is a lack of clarity with the public and the Board about the best path to accommodating population growth and achieving Full-Day Kindergarten. To build consensus, the Board decided not to vote on any elementary construction plans tonight.
Instead, Director Houghton proposed a new special meeting, highly promoted, to bring the history and options to the public. Director Bertone then suggested the meeting be open for Q + A with the public, in a town hall format. Director Ghrayeb amended this idea to suggest having multiple meetings, hosted at elementary schools throughout the district, to try and gather as much public input as possible. The Board as a whole agreed warmly to this proposal—acknowledging the nuances of changes in middle and high school feeder patterns, improvements needed at various elementary schools, etc.
Stay tuned for details on these public meetings.
Public comment was brief this evening. There was comment in support of keeping books on shelves, listening to community input for elementary construction plans, the urgency of Full-Day Kindergarten, the need for better mask enforcement, a request to honor a 900-signature petition for a remote learning option, and a statement of gratitude from the Muslim community for adding Eid to to the calendar.
The next Committee of the Whole Meeting will be on Wednesday, February 2.
The next School Board Meeting will be on Wednesday, February 9.
The agenda for each meeting will be posted online the day beforehand.
Both of these meetings accept public comment.
We’ll see you there!