Pottsgrove Prepares for Hybrid Return, with Opportunity Beyond

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – Even as it continues to pursue opening its school buildings under a part-time hybrid (combined live and online education) model by or before Dec. 1, the Pottsgrove School District could qualify now to bring students back to classrooms full-time, Superintendent Dr. William Shirk suggested to the district Board of School Directors during its Tuesday (Oct. 13, 2020) virtual meeting.

A wholly virtual option also remains for parents who would prefer their children avoid re-entering the buildings.

As presented Tuesday by the Pottsgrove School District

Montgomery County COVID-19 case reporting shows it to be within what the state Department of Education considers a “moderate” range – and limiting Pottsgrove to hybrid or virtual operations – for percentages of the public with coronavirus, Shirk said. However, similar reporting for only the district’s three townships – Lower, Upper, and West Pottsgrove – is within the state’s “low” range (at right).

That presents an potential opportunity for Pottsgrove to fully re-open, Shirk said. The district-wide incident rate of cases per 10,000 people for the week ending Sept. 24 was 2.77, and for the week ending Oct. 1 was 1.82, both well below the education department-set maximums, displayed figures indicated.

It won’t happen anytime soon, though, he also cautioned.

The superintendent cited two reasons: the district’s pandemic health and safety plan would need to be updated or re-written to prepare for a variety of scenarios, including an unexpected spike in new cases; and it still lacks sufficient space, particularly in its high and middle schools, to adequately accommodate social distancing with anticipated class sizes.

On both, he said, the school board “needs to make decisions down the road.” As of now, Shirk added, the district is nearing full completion of tasks it needs to partially return students to classroom and in-person teaching environments. A go-or-no-go vote on a Pottsgrove hybrid opening remains scheduled for the directors’ Nov. 10 meeting, board Vice President Al Leach confirmed.

Parental intent surveys returned to the district by Friday (Oct. 9) also bolstered the belief that families want their students back in buildings.

Pottsgrove Prepares for Hybrid Return, with Opportunity Beyond
As presented Tuesday by the Pottsgrove School District

Parents of children in West Pottsgrove, Ringing Rocks, and Lower Pottsgrove elementary grades favored a hybrid return by a range of between 69 percent and 73 percent, according to a district-created bar chart (above). There was more reluctance among middle school parents, where the displayed range for those in grades 6-8 ranged between 61 and 63 percent.

Results were mixed at the high school level, where parents of students in grades 9 and 11 favored hybrid by only 52 and 58 percent respectively, and in grades 10 and 12 by 69 and 67 percent. District Director of Integration for Learning and Instruction Dr. David Ramage said he hadn’t yet fully explored reasons behind the disparities, but speculated the “transitional” nature of the 9th grade year may play a role in those parents’ decision-making.

As for the safety gear and precautions required to bring students back on part-time live schedules:

  • Shirk declared personal protection equipment and mobile thermal cameras for spotting fever symptoms were “ready to go;”
  • Bacteria-destroying ultra-violet light equipment still lacked some components, but none that would prevent them from operating as expected to sanitize rooms, Business Administrator David Nester added; and
  • Individual equipment and supplies were already “in the hands of school nurses” needing them, Shirk said.

Parents who lacked time to complete the survey, or missed it entirely, Shirk said, will have their children counted as candidates for hybrid schooling. Those who instead prefer virtual schooling should call appropriate school offices to make their preferences known.

The district also plans a telephone outreach campaign to ensure it knows preferences for parents who so far did not respond to the survey.

Editor’s note: This story was edited Wednesday (Oct. 14) at 12:44 p.m. to include two displays presented by the district during the school board meeting. Also, one-sentence paragraph was added to remind parents a completely virtual educational option will continue at Pottsgrove for those who prefer it.

Photo by The Post