Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Votes to Bring Elementary Students Back to Classrooms
By Steven Hoffman
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board voted Monday to bring elementary students back to the physical classrooms in October as part of a hybrid return, and also voted to adopt the academic and athletic health and safety plans.
A vote on whether to bring students in grades six through 12 back for hybrid instruction isn’t expected until next month.
At the meeting -- before which a group of parents and students held a rally in support of reopening -- the board members voted unanimously to start hybrid instruction for children in kindergarten through fifth grades on Oct. 12, assuming the incidence of COVID-19 per 100,000 and the PCR percent positivity rate remain “comparable” to current levels.
“From a K-5 perspective, we know that these students are at a much lower risk of spread,” said Superintendent John Sanville. “A phased reopening also allows us to use our time and energy to open elementary school and do it well.
“Once we open K-5 … it will give our community and our staff confidence we can do the same at the secondary level.”
The COVID-19 numbers had improved since the school board’s Sept. 14 work session, at which time Salwa Sulieman, an infectious disease doctor with A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, had warned that the numbers didn’t appear stable enough to warrant a return for hybrid instruction.
Sanville said Monday that he and Steve Simonson had met again with Sulieman about the most recent numbers, and that “the numbers we all saw were better than the week before.”
The Sept. 17 numbers showed several metrics, including the cases per 100,000, and the positivity rate, both dropping from the previous week, and the projected cases staying flat, according to a community update that Sanville sent earlier Monday.
“Projections rather than rising over the coming weeks remained flat,” Sanville said at the meeting. “Those promising statistics led us to the point where we talked about whether it’s prudent and proper and the right thing to do to open our schools in the K-5 model.”
The health and safety plan that was approved unanimously on Monday calls for kindergarten students to go to school for a half-day every other day. It also calls for pre-first through fifth graders to attend every day for a half day, with remote asynchronous learning for the other half of the day. Both have options for students to remain fully remote.
The plan also spells out quarantine guidelines, cleanings and screenings, and lists when, where, and how masks are required. A copy of the “Health and Safety Plan Guide to Reopen Schools” can be found on the district’s website at ucfsd.org.
Oct. 12 will be both the day when K-5 students can return for hybrid instruction, and when the board could consider voting to allow the remaining grades to return at the end of the month for hybrid instruction, both of which assume the COVID-19 metrics remain around where they were as of Sept. 17.
“What we can promise … is that we will make our best efforts to get our schools open, that we will follow all COVID (guidance), and that we will support each other and get through this together,” said school board president Jeff Hellrung.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved an updated version of the fall athletics health and safety plan by a vote of 6-3. Rashi Akki, Elise Anderson, and Steven Sanderson voted no.
A copy of that plan can be found on the athletics page of the district website.
District athletics supervisor Pat Crater and athletics coordinator Joe Vogler attended the meeting and answered questions about the updates to the plan. Changes include, among other things, requiring that food for students or staff be pre-packaged in boxes or bags for each attendee by our cafeteria services or the food provider; developing inter-squad expectations, which have been developed in collaboration with a stakeholder group of student-athletes, coaches, parents, staff members, athletics trainers, and the supervisor of athletes; and adding the Ches-Mont League Standardized Screening Protocol as a requirement before competitions.
“Our message to coaches and athletes means to be a good teammate,” Crater said, adding that being a good teammate means “staying home when you’re sick, and social distancing, and wearing masks.
“Our athletes recognize the responsibility that we all have.”