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Chester County Press

Kennett Schools Will Reopen Remotely on Sept. 8 in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

08/06/2020 06:00AM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Kennett Consolidated School District Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey’s remote reopening model at a special meeting. With that approval, the model, which calls for the school year to start on Sept. 8, will be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The submitted plan applies to the actions of the first marking period, which ends on Nov. 13. Plans for the continued execution will be addressed at the October school board meeting.

The board does not ordinarily meet in August, but needed to resolve the question of how the schools would reopen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has proven to have the potential to be spread widely if mishandled.

Blakey presented his report based on the need to both educate the students and keep them safe. He reminded the board and the 424 people who had accessed the Zoom online presentation that he originally had at first considered three options: in-person attendance, a hybrid model that included remote and in-person instruction, and a total remote option.

He said he had surveyed his faculty as well as community members in order to make his decision. He admitted that, “No plan is perfect.”

Blakey said he also sought advice from state and local agencies as well as from other nearby superintendents. His frustration was exacerbated, he said, because in many cases the information from the state and county were contradictory. He realized that he and the other heads of schools were on their own for making plans.

One of the pieces of data that influenced his decision, he said, was the survey of faculty that yielded the majority felt more comfortable and safe with a totally remote model than in-person education.

The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to presentations by administrators of the kindergarten, elementary schools, middle school, special populations and high school. They explained the outcomes of their planning, utilizing a PowerPoint presentation.

Greenwood Elementary School Principal Dr. Tracey Marino said the plans “….(Mirror the school day as much as possible) and aim to follow state Department of Education mandates.” This includes 180 instruction days and/or 990 hours of school.

April Reynolds, who talked about the Kindergarten program, said the curriculum includes motor activities as well.

Director of Special Education Dr. Heather Collins said, “We will support the social and emotional needs of the students and staff as well.”

The new calendar shows Sept. 8 and 9 are designated for orienting the students to the system.

The school classes begin at 7:40 a.m. and conclude at 2:35 p.m.  Students will all have computers and educational “kits.”

The weekly schedule begins with a Monday “Jump Start Day” when problems are solved, logistics are addressed and expectations are explained. On Tuesdays through Fridays, the educational process is carried out online both in real time and with pre-recorded segments. Attendance will be taken daily, and communication with teachers is available.

When asked if the students would be glued to a computer screen all day, Director of Curriculum Dr. Lydia Hallman said, “No.”

There would be many opportunities throughout the day for independent study, group work, recess and lunch, she said.

High School principal Jeremy Hritz, who gave the concluding presentation, said, “You will see (curriculum) consistency from kindergarten through high school.”

Assistant superintendent Dr. Michael Barber reported on the athletic schedule, as he did at the July meeting.

“We’re planning on a sport-by-sport basis,” he said. Sports will begin (or not) on Sept. 15, following a review of conditions.

The board members, while voting unanimously and showing strong support for Blakey, expressed their ambivalence about the school district being left on its own to design new schedules in light of the pandemic.  

Board member David Kronenberg was particularly passionate. He said, “I have to take a moment to voice my anger and disappointment in our political leadership in their failure to address their responsibilities in this crisis. If management plans had been put in place in February, we would not be facing this crisis today.”

Blakey reminded his board and his virtual audience that Kennett Consolidated was the sixth of the 12 districts in Chester County to decide to open virtually.

He also reiterated his attitude toward the reopening adjustments for the 2020-21 school year: “No exact plan will meet every single person’s needs,” he said.

The presentation of this meeting will be on the district website as soon as possible.