WEST CHESTER, PA — The West Chester Area Board of School Directors followed the lead of families whose comments and feedback fell significantly in favor of opening school remotely.
The board approved 8-1 a remote reopening plan that called for ongoing review of when it may be safe to begin either hybrid or in-school instruction. Brian Gallen cast the only vote against the plan, citing concerns for the loss of the social benefit being in school provides to children.
The WCASD board acknowledged that the options were not optimal. The board cited safety and continuity as reasons for choosing to begin the 2020-21 school year with all-virtual instruction. “This is still a global pandemic,” the board stated in its public presentation. “The science is still emerging.”
In the presentation, the board noted that epidemiologists expect that schools that are opening in brick and mortar settings will close soon after reopening because of COVID-19 cases. “Why should we be the test case?” the board’s presentation asked, in showing the school board’s reasoning.
WCASD Asst. Superintendent Dr. Bob Sokolowski summarized public comments in an online meeting Monday night. He said in comments taken up until noon on Aug. 3, 675 responded and the most frequently communicated preference was to open schools online rather than in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Sokolowski said, many respondents said they were “relieved to hear” the board may recommend to open remotely.
Respondents favoring remote instruction did ask for more consistency and synchronous instruction than was given in spring, Sokolowski said.
But the assistant superintendent also reported 225 respondents expressed support for in-school instruction, or at least a hybrid that would put students face-to-face with teachers. Their reasons, he said, were that “children were not getting the (corona)virus as much,” and “their social and emotional well being is more important than fear of the virus.” He also said some expressed concerns about managing childcare.
Dr. Sara M. Missett shared with Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon progress on a system of “pop-up daycare” that the district is creating, with the help of area daycare providers.
Before stating their vote on the plan to reopen remotely, board members offered remarks. Gary Bevilacqua said this was “one of the most challenging decisions” he has ever had to make. He acknowledged the hardship many families are facing with childcare. Yet he also said he was very concerned with the potential of spreading the coronavirus, and with the safety of teachers and students. He pointed out that multi-generational households face an additional risk if there are grandparents in the home. “I cannot consciously vote to return to school, even in the hybrid model, in these uncertain times at the start of this school year,” Bevilacqua said.
WCASD Board President Chris McCune said he has “five kids in district schools,” but must vote as a board member, not as a parent. “We all have different feelings and degrees of acceptable risk. While I can determine a level of risk acceptable for myself and my family, I feel less comfortable making that decision for 12,000 students,” said McCune. He voted in favor of the remote reopening plan.
Board members repeatedly stated their intent to get students back into school as soon as is safely possible. The full meeting video may be viewed here.
In personnel business, the WCASD School Board of Directors also unanimously approved the hire of Dr. Michael Garvin as Principal of Penn Wood Elementary School.
This article originally appeared on the West Chester Patch