Reopening schools is easy. Keeping them open is harder

Districts consider mix of in-person and remote learning

  • Ed Mahon/PA Post
Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham reported on Philadelphia’s plans to send students back to school buildings two days a week. She also explained how it would affect her personally “as a parent who has no idea how I’m going to manage FT work/PT remote learning for my kids.” I have wondered the same thing lately. My oldest son starts first grade this year. I’m waiting to hear what his district will do. I’d love to hear how you are feeling about remote learning or returning to the classroom. Drop us a line at the Listening Post.— Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about reopening schools.

David Christopher, a superintendent in Cumberland County, said that’s not really the right phrase for how he’s approaching the new school year.

“Reopening schools is really easy. We just bring everybody back to school,” Christopher, the head of the Cumberland Valley School District, said on WITF’s Smart Talk. “This is a staying open plan, which is a lot harder.”

What he means: If schools don’t have the right mitigation efforts in place, coronavirus cases will start to climb again. Christopher said it would not take many cases to shut down an entire school building for 14 days. Five cases would be enough, he said.

“And that kind of opening and closure, and opening and closure, I think would actually be more disruptive for students and teachers than potentially being online all the time,” Christopher said.

Christopher plans to bring K-5 students back for in-person classes every day — that means modifying schedules, so students can ride on buses that are at no more than 50 percent capacity. For middle and high schools, the district is looking at a hybrid model where students would attend in-person two days a week.

Here’s a look at how other districts in the state are planning for the fall:

  • Philadelphia: “The plan calls for students to attend classes in their respective school buildings twice a week, while completing the rest of their work online,” writes WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent. “Some high-needs students will have the option to attend school four days a week, as will pre-K students.”

  • Highlights from Philly’s plan: No more than 25 people should be in a classroom, including students, teachers and staff members, when feasible. Teachers will be expected to provide in-person instruction four days a week , Avi reports. The district won’t check temperatures for students when they enter. You can read the plan here.

  • Pennsylvania’s second largest city: “Pittsburgh Public Schools students will not return to the classroom full-time in the upcoming school year, if they go back at all,” writes Andrew Goldstein for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

  • Across the state: Each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts needs to approve its own reopening plan. Speaking on WITF’s Smart Talk, the chief advocacy officer for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, John Callahan, stressed how complicated the issue is for districts and recommended that districts take a regional approach.

  • What the state’s largest teachers union says: Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the U.S. Congress should provide $175 billion to help school districts. “We need to really focus on making sure, if they’re going to open, they’re going to open safely,” Askey said. “And everyone has to feel like every resource is there, every plan is there.” The National Education Association says the federal money is needed to fill budget gaps, and that school workers need the proper personal personal protective equipment.

  • Clear eyes, full season? PIAA officials say they are moving forward with the normal start of fall sports unless the state tells them not to.  Some teams have already had to deal with players testing positive. WNEP recently reported that some members of the Valley View team in Lackawanna County quarantined themselves after one player tested positive. In Cumberland County, a high school suspended field hockey and boy soccer practices after one player from each team revealed positive test results, The Sentinel reports.

Related news:

Best of the rest

Sara Kennely, cleans one of the dining tables at Max's Allegheny Tavern, Thursday, June 4, 2020. The restaurant taped over the surfaces of some tables to restrict seating to maintain social distancing when patrons are permitted to dine inside when most of southwest Pennsylvania loosens COVID-19 restrictions on Friday.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Sara Kennely, cleans one of the dining tables at Max’s Allegheny Tavern, Thursday, June 4, 2020. The restaurant taped over the surfaces of some tables to restrict seating to maintain social distancing when patrons are permitted to dine inside when most of southwest Pennsylvania loosens COVID-19 restrictions on Friday.

  • Wolf orders new restrictions: Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday ordered bars and restaurants to only seat people indoors at 25 percent capacity, and bars that don’t serve food will remain closed to in-person service. In response, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association says the state needs to develop a bailout package for the industry.  The group wants the state to eliminate its fees for running a tavern or restaurant, provide higher discounts when licensed establishments buy liquor from the state and give more financial assistance (although the group didn’t say how much exactly.) PennLive has more details on the new order.

  • Denied access to Hersheypark: A mother says her 9-year-old autistic son was denied access to Hershey park because his disabilities prevent him from wearing a mask. The York Daily Record’s Kim Strong has the story, along with a response from the amusement park.

  • Poll shows big lead for Biden, support for Wolf’s coronavirus response: A new Monmouth University Poll found former Vice President Joe Biden has a 13 percentage point lead over President Donald Trump among registered voters. But voters are more evenly split when asked who they think will win: 46 percent expect the Republican incumbent to hold onto the presidency, while 45 percent expect Biden to win. A majority of voters “believe there are a number of so-called secret voters in their communities who support Trump but won’t tell anyone about it,” the poll summary says. Meanwhile, 67 percent of respondents said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has done a good job of handling the coronavirus outbreak. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Allison Steele breaks the poll down for us.

  • In the legislature: Republicans in the General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would require Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges to run for seats in districts where they live, instead of 10-year terms statewide, Marc Levy reports for The Associated Press. Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County says the move would “subvert the courts with political, judicial gerrymandering.” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said the amendment would ensure membership of the appellate courts “reflect[s] the regional diversity of Pennsylvania.” The measure still needs to pass out of the General Assembly next legislative session, so the earliest it could appear on ballots for voters to approve or reject would be 2021. Over at PennLivecolumnist John Baer calls the legislature’s attempt to reshape the courts a bad idea.

  • Separately, the Senate also passed constitutional amendments that would limit a governor’s disaster emergency powers. That could make it voters in 2021, as well, as I wrote about earlier.

  • Will the gun control movement help put Democrats back in the majority in the Pa. legislature? Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety PAC plans to spend $1 million in the fall election in an effort to tip the balance of power. “Everytown’s commitment to flipping the legislature is notable in part because the group has angered progressives in recent years for backing Republicans — a record that came under fresh scrutiny during Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential campaign this year,” The Philadelphia Inquirer notes.

  • Probation reform: The state Senate unanimously approved a probation reform package on Wednesday, responding to widespread criticism (from the left and right) that Pa.’s system is arbitrary and unfair. PennLive’s Ron Southwick has a very thorough story about the issue, which notes that the state House has a different proposal still being debated, and how traditional supporters of reform, like the ACLU, oppose the Senate’s version.

  • What are they hiding?: Bucks County is suing a PA Post reporter in order to keep secret its plan for handling coronavirus inside its jail. Joseph Darius Jaafari writes about it here.

  • If you missed it, check out this New York Times story datelined CHAMBERSBURG: ‘Coming Out of the Woodwork’: Black Lives Matter in Small-Town America.

Coronavirus across Pa.

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