With the start of school one month away, more and more districts in the Delaware Valley are deciding that an immediate return to the brick-and-mortar, in-person classroom experience is simply unfeasible right now amidst an uptick in coronavirus cases nationwide and in Pennsylvania.
As if that decision on its own weren’t difficult enough, districts are also still engaged in trying to upgrade their online curriculums after the transition to tele-instruction seemed to falter in most places in the spring.
The Chester Upland School District decided it will return to the virtual model for the remainder of 2020, becoming the first in Delaware County district to postpone in-classroom teaching that far out in the calendar.
“Of course, we look forward to the day when we can welcome everyone back for total reopening of in person learning, but our first priority is to ensure safety, while still offering a meaningful, challenging and equitable learning experience,” Superintendent Dr. Carol D. Birks said in a statement on the district website.
That action comes close on the heels of the Spring-Ford school district in Montgomery County choosing to open the school year in the “red” zone — meaning 100 percent online instruction. The “red” reopening is only slated through the first marking period, which ends November 6, opening the door slightly to a return to in-class instruction before 2021.
Spring-Ford’s superintendent said a major factor in the decision was trouble securing enough safety equipment and supplies, like masks and sanitizing materials.
Avon Grove in Bucks County announced Friday, it too, would open “in an online format for all students.”
Other districts are still undecided. The Coatesville Area School District’s website currently notes, “Our re-opening plan is in the process of being drafted and it has changed numerous times given the shift in guidance.”
Some decisions will come down this week. Tonight, the Cheltenham School District in Montgomery County will choose a reopening plan, although the superintendent has already announced he will recommend for a “full virtual model” for the fall semester.
In other cases, the final decision is still weeks away. Jenkintown will not make its final decision on a reopening plan until August 17, according to the district website. The Abingdon School district will decide a week from Tuesday, August 11, according to the district’s communications officer, Allie Artur.
The uncertainty has continued to drive a tidal wave of new students to Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter schools.
“After school was closed in March through the end of the school year we brought in about an additional 650 students,” Tim Eller, spokesman with the Commonwealth Charter Academy, a cyber-charter school, told Delaware Valley Journal.
“When I compare this summer to any other year, we are through the roof with interest and enrollment applications,” Eller continued. “We’re in unknown territory. We’re seeing possibly a 9- or 10-fold increase in the number of requests for information the number of applications coming in.”
The abrupt transition in the spring to tele-learning was difficult for most school districts across the country, not just in the Delaware Valley. Surveys and studies from around the nation have shown a host of problems schools faced with the new model of online instruction.
“Early into the shutdown, the Los Angeles Unified School District estimated that on any given day in a week span, 32% of high-school students didn’t log in to learn,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
However, it’s evident from many Delaware Valley districts that schools are ready to tackle those challenges by enacting tougher standards.
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“Unlike the spring, you will be required to log in for live sessions, live classes, every day,” Norristown Area High School Principal Ed Roth told students in an update posted on social media early Monday.
“Yes, it’s going to be harder this fall than it was in the spring, no doubt about it,” Roth concluded.