If a five-year-old is safe at a daycare, why not a classroom? That’s the question some Delaware Valley parents are asking as the data show kids at local daycares have been happy, healthy — and almost entirely COVID-free.
Of the 581 child care providers in Delaware and Chester counties, 532 have remained open during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services — and with no significant outbreaks of the virus.
Apple Pie Day Care in Upper Darby has had no COVID-19 cases, according to the center’s director Jennifer Boyer. Apple Pie has a capacity of 209 and cares for children ranging in age from infants to 15-year-olds.
The state has approved the Upper Darby school district’s plan, which calls for in-person instruction with flexible scheduling and remote learning.
The plan pleases Boyer.
“I have an eight-year-old, and I’m sending her to school in September,” Boyer told Delaware Valley Journal, adding she was relieved that her daughter was probably going back to school.
Multiple studies, both in the U.S. and internationally, show that children are less likely to both become infected and spread the virus. This is particularly true of children 10 and younger. At the same time, the negative impact from missing school is universally acknowledged, as is the failure of America’s experiment with all-online learning in the spring.
And yet, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) wrote a letter last week to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to force schools to develop online learning plans.
“It is extremely important for Pennsylvania’s public schools to plan for the distinct possibility that further increases in COVID-19 cases will make it impossible to safely reopen Pennsylvania’s schools for in-person instruction,” Rich Askey wrote. “In public education, planning is paramount to providing the very best instruction for our students.
“That is why it is absolutely essential that every public school entity in Pennsylvania is prepared to deliver online instruction. School entities that have not already developed plans for online instruction must immediately create them,” Askey continued. “So, I ask that you use your executive authority to direct school entities to work with their local education associations and develop thorough, complete, and well-reasoned online instruction models.”
A recent Patch survey of nearly 11,000 Pennsylvania residents, shows about 43 percent said students should “absolutely not” return for in-person learning this fall and 39 percent said students “definitely” should. About 18 percent of respondents were unsure.
And a survey of the nearby Philadelphia school district found just 47 percent parents would send their children back to school under current circumstances. With additional safety measures, that number rises to 62 percent.
With parents so conflicted about how to move forward, it’s no surprise that public school officials are, too.
In Delaware County, school district administrators have yet to embrace a single method to safely open schools. The superintendents from the 15 school districts in Delaware County have been meeting with representatives from the Chester County Department of Health and the Delaware County Intermediate Unit via Zoom every week for several months to exchange ideas.
Under Pennsylvania law, local plans must be approved by each school entity’s governing body and then submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for review.
“Right now we’re following guidance from the governor’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and for Delaware County, the Chester County Department of Health is our health authority,” Garnet Valley Superintendent Marc Bertrando said. “A lot of our face-to-face discussions and boots on the ground detail direction are coming from the Chester County Department of Health.”
One Chester County district that’s struggling with its opening strategy is the West Chester Area School District (WCASD), which has preliminary plans to offer students a choice of either full-time, in-person classroom learning or a cyber school option for fall 2020’s reopening.
The WCASD website says it will offer in-person schooling to “all students, five days a week, full days, with 3 feet of separation, masks, and numerous other health and safety procedures in place.”
At the same time, the school district will offer an alternative to in-person schooling. Its K-12 online option, the WC Cyber Program, is available to all students. All Chester County School Districts are collaborating on similar plans.
“There are many unknowns and we are doing our best to keep up,” WCSAD Superintendent of Schools Jim Scanlon said.
But there is so much uncertainty WCSAD hasn’t even been able to confirm a reopen date. After originally announcing teachers would return on August 24 and students on August 31, Scanlon wrote a letter to the community announcing the district is seeking “even more new direction and guidance on how school should reopen.”
“We are working as quickly and as hard as we can to find a path forward that we feel is responsible and reasonable,” Scanlon wrote. “With just over a month to our planned start of school, I know our entire school community is anxious and eager to hear how we’ll move forward with safely reopening schools.”
PSEA spokesman David Broderic said the association has been working with school districts in Chester and Delaware Counties — and the rest of Pennsylvania — “to put together the best possible plans for reopening the schools.”
“Our people are eager to get back to their students to teach in person,” Broderic told Delaware Valley Journal. “Of course we have to watch what the health situation is in the coming weeks.
“Right now, what we are doing is looking to influence school reopening plans… to open safely to whatever extent possible,” adding that the association believes “teaching in person is the best way possible.”