Pottsgrove Sticks to School Start Date, Revises Schedules, Offers More Training

Schools to start with full days for grades 6-12, half-days for K-5

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – The Pottsgrove School District will start its academic year as planned next Monday (Aug. 31, 2020), its school board agreed Tuesday night (Aug. 25) after hours of discussion. But it made specific and limited changes to schedules for elementary schools, intending to give teachers there more training in technology being used to deliver virtual lessons during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students attending Pottsgrove Middle and Pottsgrove High schools (grades 6-12) will start their online education with full-day schedules Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, the board decided in an 8-1 vote. Teachers and families at both buildings use, and are considered familiar with, an online learning management system called Schoology. It’s part of district-wide platforms being deployed for Pottsgrove’s “Virtual Academy.”

Schoology is new, however, at the West Pottsgrove, Ringing Rocks, and Lower Pottsgrove elementary buildings (grades K-5), for which it was purchased in June. The board decreed students there would start on half-day-only schedules during the same Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 period, so teachers could use afternoons for additional training in both Schoology and Zoom-brand meeting software.

All five schools are expected to return to regular full days online Sept. 8 (Tuesday), the day following the Labor Day holiday, board members added.

The schedule revisions came amid charges made in a letter from the district teachers’ union, the Pottsgrove Education Association, and its president John Shantz that “teachers, students, and parents have not been universally provided all materials, resources, training, and orientation necessary for a successful and productive first day of remote instruction.”

Those claims were bolstered by what school board members Bill Parker, Jim Lapic, and others said were e-mails from dozens of parents who made similar allegations, and openly worried they were unprepared to help their own children succeed.

The situation is further complicated, Superintendent Dr. William Shirk said, by the fact that iPad devices to be used in online learning by a large group of students at Lower Pottsgrove Elementary have yet to arrive there.

A compromise, tiredly forged

The majority decision – director Ashley Custer was the sole opponent – represented a compromise forged early Wednesday morning (Aug. 26) after hours of live-streamed comments from the board, Pottsgrove administrators, Shantz, and members of the public.

The union contended during the meeting that the schools’ start should be indefinitely delayed to permit more training. District leaders and school principals, on the other hand, generally declared their staffs “ready to go” for the following week. A middle ground solution was found after observations by district Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robert Harney and board member Patti Grimm.

Harney suggested Pottsgrove could possibly violate Pennsylvania School Code if it failed to provide 180 days of education by pushing back the start date as Shantz suggested. That spurred Grimm to recognize half-days from the start date could be used to meet the 180-day threshold. Those points led to several iterations of, and then final agreement on, a scheduling resolution offered by Grimm after midnight Wednesday.

By that time, her board colleagues admitted they were “punchy” and losing focus. Board President Robert Lindgren even began reading the wrong resolution to be voted on until he was interrupted and changed course.

Also Tuesday, regarding fall sports

The school board agreed Tuesday night to let Pottsgrove athletes participate in Pioneer Athletic Conference sports events this fall, but only under guidance drafted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, and endorsed and distributed Tuesday afternoon by the Montgomery County Office of Public Health.

Read a copy of the guidelines, here.

The guidance allows sports participation only if community (determined by zip codes or municipalities) coronavirus testing meets or falls below targeted positivity levels. Levels vary for specific sports depending on their classification as low, moderate, or high risk of contact. It also demands adequate social distancing, masking, and the ability to conduct contract tracing if needed.

According to Pottsgrove High Principal Dr. Bill Ziegler, who this year also serves as the conference president, a determination on starting sports could be made Sept. 7.

Photo from USAr, used within the public domain and under guidance