More In-Person Classes at Pottsgrove ‘When It’s Time’

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – What will it take to have Pottsgrove School District students spend more live instruction time, maybe as much as an extra day or two, inside a school building? A higher level of coronavirus vaccinations, a successful assurance testing program, and more physical space all seemed to be answers Tuesday (Feb. 9, 2021) from members of its Board of School Directors.

The discussion was prompted by board Vice President Al Leach, long an advocate of resuming live instruction at the district’s five schools as quickly as possible. He posed the question to his colleagues and district Superintendent Dr. William Shirk during the board’s meeting, wondering if Pottsgrove could “work another (live) day or so” into its combined in-person and online “hybrid” mode.

The district currently educates a large number of students in virtual (online only) mode, “and a lot of them are not doing well at all,” Leach contended. Some students are “so far behind” virtually that, whenever live instruction fully resumes, “it could take them three to four months just to catch up,” he claimed. Wouldn’t it make sense, he asked, to give them more time sooner in front of teachers?

Yes, but not yet, appeared to be the thinking of directors who responded.

Shirk was the first to reply, noting that district building space limitations in part dictated the number of students in a classroom, due to current 6-foot social distancing guidelines. The board, so far, has agreed to follow Montgomery County health officials’ insistence on the measurement. To circumvent the limits directors “would have to be willing,” Shirk said, “not to follow that piece.”

Additionally, Shirk noted, Pottsgrove is working hard to install an in-house COVID rapid testing “assurance program” within coming weeks. Its prospective success, the superintendent proposed, “is going to be huge” in addressing teacher and family concerns about identifying infected individuals within buildings. With it, Pottsgrove might move closer to a comfort level with more in-person education.

Board President Robert Lindgren proclaimed he was “happy” with progress Montgomery County was making to vaccinate its residents against coronavirus. More vaccinations are needed, he believes. “We can go back into schools responsibly and intelligently, as it makes sense,” Lindgren said. “We’ll make it work when it’s time to make it work.”

The president added he also sought to ensure families who wanted their students to remain solely online kept that option. “I don’t want us to exclude anyone,” Lindgren said. The feeling of “inclusiveness is what brought more students back to us in the second semester” of the current academic year, he observed.

Director Bill Parker indicated he hesitated to change the social distancing norm. “We’re dealing with a pandemic, and I think we have to go with the recommendations of the Department of Health, so I wouldn’t go against what they recommend,” he said.

“We’re going to be dealing with this pandemic for another year,” Leach countered. “I don’t see anything changing over the next six months to a year.” Eventually, he said, board members will “have to make the discussion” about the possibility of reducing social distancing to between 3 and 6 feet. That potential change, he said, would “allow more students coming into the buildings.”

Although he did not directly disagree, Shirk reminded board members that “we follow all the rules we’re asked to follow.” The district must then get its assurance testing program into operation. Finally, once district teachers are fully vaccinated, he said, “we’ll position ourselves to get ourselves back full-time.”

“I do believe there’s a great opportunity to start on time in the fall with all these things in place,” Shirk concluded. “We just have to be patient.”

Photo by Forest Simon via Unsplash, used under license