Bethel Park School District officials are reconsidering the originally approved plan to reopen for the new academic year.
The 42-page Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan the school board approved July 28 calls for a “total reopen for all students and staff,” meaning attendance five days a week, with a provision for students to opt out and learn remotely.
When the board met again Aug. 4, though, a probable change was announced.
“In terms of your own planning, I would say that we’re either moving to hybrid or to total remote because of safety concerns,” Pamela Dobos, board president, said. “But right now we’re leaning more in the direction of a hybrid approach.”
A “blended reopening,” as termed in the plan, would have students attend school two days a week and learn at home the other three, divided into cohorts attending either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, with Wednesdays reserved for activities such as precautionary deep cleaning against the spread of COVID-19.
The board plans to meet Aug. 11 to address the matter further.
“Although we hoped this week to be able to lay out a complete plan before you, it’s just not feasible right now,” Dobos said, citing the administration’s monitoring of guidance from various governmental agencies that “seems to change daily, if not hourly.”
Other considerations have prompted the probable change in direction.
“Part of the reason is last week’s plan made it clear to all of us that if we went back fully, we would not be able to social distance. And that was a huge concern for all of us, not being able to social distance in the classroom nor on the buses,” Dobos said. “We also have learned in this past couple of days that most of the school districts in our general area, right around where we are, are also moving to the hybrid, or blended, approach.”
With regard to remote instruction, the school board on July 28 approved the purchase of the Schoology Learning Management System, software by which faculty members can create and share academic content with students and parents or guardians.
District officials at this point do not favor starting the year on a fully remote basis, with Dobos referring to a comment made Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf that if a school goes completely virtual, it would seem difficult to justify playing in-person contact sports.
Joseph Dimperio, interim superintendent, further explained the district’s position.
“Our goal has always been to try to get children back in school in a safe environment, consistent with all of the guidelines and everything that goes with that,” he said. “These are such difficult times and such difficult decisions, but know that we have the children, parents and our community’s best interests at heart.”
At this point, the district calendar calls for students to return Aug. 26. A regular school board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25.