Health Officials’ Meeting May Affect Pottsgrove Plans

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – Only 48 hours after the Pottsgrove school board voted 6-3 to launch a Nov. 30 (2020; Monday) hybrid re-opening of its buildings, and return some students part-time to classroom environments, a proposal that will be considered today by Montgomery County health experts that potentially could undo those plans.

The county Office of Public Health is scheduled to meet virtually at 10 a.m. to determine the necessity of a “School Risk Reduction and Mitigation Order.” If issued, it may require all school districts operating within the county to hold only virtual classes for a two-week period beginning Nov. 23.

It is being considered as a pro-active response to an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases across the county, adjacent neighboring counties, and statewide.

Pottsgrove will comply with any such order, district Superintendent Dr. William Shirk has repeatedly said. During the school board meeting Tuesday (Nov. 10), he called the county a reliable and accurate source of coronavirus pandemic-related information, and added he relied on its advice.

But because a majority of district families want their students to work in-person rather than online with teachers, according to district surveys, a letter from Shirk distributed Wednesday (Nov. 11) to Pottsgrove constituencies stated it hopes to “remain in a 100-percent virtual model only as long as absolutely necessary. It is our goal to keep schools open as much as possible this year,” he wrote.

“Due to the safety protocols that are in place, and our staff’s strict adherence to our plan, we are confident that our schools can move to a hybrid platform at month’s end. However, should the date for a hybrid return need to change due to guidance from the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, we will notify our community as soon as possible,” the letter stated.

Depending on the county’s decision regarding a risk reduction order, that notice could come later in the day.

The county, Shirk reported Tuesday, takes many of its cues from the Policy Lab of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In a report issued Tuesday, it advocated closing all school buildings in the region and returning to virtual learning methods from Nov. 16 (Monday) to up to 10 days after Thanksgiving. That could push a re-opening back to Dec. 7 at the earliest.

No matter what the timeline, Shirk’s letter indicated the district would continue to be ready to act on opportunities to re-open in a hybrid mode.

It “will maintain the vigilant practice of the effective mitigation efforts including frequent cleaning and disinfection of the buildings, use of face coverings, social/physical distancing, and the monitoring of student health. In addition, we have the necessary reserve of cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for the upcoming months of school,” he wrote.

He also sought help from families in keeping themselves and others safe. He asked them to continue to reinforce the importance of face coverings and hand washing with their students, and to monitor the family for COVID-19 symptoms, and have students stay home if they were detected.

Photo by Engin Akyurt via Unsplash, used under license