18 Nov Jonathan Cartu Reports: Exeter district to allow in-person classes, winter sports |…
EXETER TWP., Pa. – Against recommendations of its administration, the Exeter Township School Board will allow in-person classes to continue through the current hybrid model and will allow winter sports to take place as scheduled.
At the Tuesday night board meeting, the administration asked the board to switch learning to all-virtual classes from Dec. 1 until Jan. 15 and to suspend winter sports and extracurricular activities through the same time period.
Superintendent Kimberly Minor said she made the recommendations because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the 19606 ZIP code and because the district currently has 42 staff members in some level of quarantine.
“We are having struggles in terms of staffing,” Minor said. “The purpose of this 24-day in-person school pause is because there are consequences of students being taught by substitute teachers who may or may not have teaching certification or expertise in the subject being taught.”
Minor said she is specifically concerned about the two-week periods following the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks.
“If we are in virtual for 24 days, most of these [quarantining] teachers would be able to teach virtually,” Minor said. “The potential for academic gains [through virtual learning] exceed that of being taught by a teacher that has no knowledge of the subject being taught.”
The district began the school year with all-virtual learning and then moved to a hybrid model on Nov. 2.
Board member Hunter Ahrens successfully amended the administration’s motion to recommend virtual classes be held for a shorter period of time, from Dec. 1 through Dec. 7.
The vote to amend the motion passed 6-3. Board members Hurey Miller, John Fidler, and Sharon McLendon voted against the amendment.
Minor said she did not agree with the amendment, as it was too short a period of time, which she said would result in inconsistency.
“One of the reasons our team proposed a clear start and end date was so that everyone is consistent and buckles down while we deliver quality [virtual] instruction during that time,” she said.
McLendon questioned why the board was not supporting the administration.
“They didn’t just pull this out of the air,” she said. “They came up with this plan because they believe it is the safest. We’re not listening to the experts from the Department of Health; they came up with the guidelines of when it is not safe for students to be in the classroom.”
Board member Michael Jupina said the Department of Health has not been helpful.
“When you can’t properly contract trace, we immediately move to quarantine everyone,” Jupina said. “When the government shut down school on March 20, there were 22 cases in Pennsylvania. So far, the governor has taken no actions at all with the current spread.”
Board member Allison Wilson said she feels the best place for students to learn is in the classroom.
“I believe a majority of families have chosen to send students back to school,” she said. “I represent the community, and that’s what our community has chosen.”
Ahrens then made a motion to table the amended motion for the virtual instructions from Dec.1 through Dec. 7.
By tabling the motion, Ahrens said the current hybrid learning model would continue without interruption, and Minor would still have the emergency authorization to close down a classroom or a building if cases should warrant that action.
The board voted to table the motion 8-1. Michele Stratton voted no.
Following the lengthy discussion, the board then tackled the second administrative recommendation to pause athletics and extracurricular activities from Dec. 1 through Jan. 15.
Without discussion, the board voted unanimously against the motion.
Prior to both votes, the board spent an hour on public comment, during which it heard from numerous parents, teachers, coaches, and students who were united in their message to the board to keep in-person learning and winter sports.
Dr. Patrick Borja, a local chiropractor and father of two high school students, said he is qualified as an expert in health and wellness. Borja said using the current COVID-19 numbers is fear-mongering.
“We need a proactive stance on keeping people safe,” Borja said. “I want to talk common sense and science. We need social interaction. By continuing [in-person] classes you are empowering kids to have better mental health. This pandemic should be a lesson to our kids. The alternative is no way to succeed in life.”
Matt Ashcroft, the boys basketball head coach, said his team has done 35 workout sessions between July and November.
“During these workouts, there has not been one issue,” he said. “Our kids have done everything right. Speaking from experience, sports was the single most important thing in my life where I learned a lot of life lessons. Don’t deprive the kids of the experience of a lifetime.”
Morgan Truckermiller, a senior who plays girls basketball and soccer, said the fall sports had no issues with COVID-19.
“My team and I put so much into getting back to the team we were last year,” she said. “For some of us, this is the last chance to play. It has been my dream to walk down the court on senior night. I want that opportunity.”
With rounds of thunderous applause following each vote, the audience acknowledged the board’s decision to have the district remain status quo on both issues.