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Chester County Press

‘We’ve all been waiting for this day’

02/28/2021 11:27PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Avon Grove School District students could soon have the option of retuning to school buildings for full-time, in-person instruction if COVID-19 cases in the county continue to decline in the weeks ahead.

During the Feb. 25 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese outlined the administration’s plan to fully reopen school buildings for the district’s 5,000 students. 

The phased reopening would see K-6 students return to a full, in-person schedule on March 22, while students in grades 7-12 would return on March 29.

But first, the incidence and transmission rates of COVID-19 cases need to continue to decline. The updated guidelines stipulate that the incidence rate—the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people—should fall below 100. According to the new guidelines, the Chester County Health Department will allow for a decrease in physical distancing in school buildings when county transmission rates fall below 100 per 100,000 and below 10 percent for the PCR Positivity Rate for three consecutive weeks. The physical distancing of six feet should still be followed to the greatest extent possible for students, and at no time is less than three feet permitted, according to the new guidelines.

Marchese said that it would take several weeks of planning and preparation to fully open schools as district officials develop strategies to maximize social distancing. The superintendent said that Avon Grove already has strong protocols in place to keep students and staff safe during the hybrid learning that has been taking place for months.  That success during the hybrid education period suggests that the district will be able to manage its way through having more students in the buildings more often.

Marchese said that the school district’s staff is looking forward to the day that the schools can be fully opened for the first time since the pandemic began in March of last year.

“We’ve all been waiting for this day,” Marchese said, explaining that it would be great for students if the school year could end as close to normal as possible.

If Avon Grove is able to pivot to a full opening of schools, families would have the option of pivoting to full, in-person instruction for their children for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year or the option of five-day, remote learning through the Avon Grove School District Online Academy. Currently, a hybrid option that combines in-person instruction with online learning is being used by Avon Grove, but if the schools are able to be fully reopened, that would not be an option. Families would need to choose between in-person or online.

The school district planned to communicate with families this week about what their choice would be moving forward.

In his COVID-19 update to the school board, Marchese noted that the school district has had 153 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the school year. That tally reflects the total number of staff members and students who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the school year. It doesn’t mean that the transmissions occurred at school or at a school sanctioned event. 

In the week prior to the meeting, the superintendent explained, there was just one person in the school buildings who tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had a good week last week,” Marchese said. “The county is seeing a decline in cases. We’ve seen a steady decline in the last several weeks.”

With the roll out of vaccines and warmer weather on the way, the hope is that another corner has been turned in the fight against the coronavirus.

The school board members had lots of questions, but they were generally supportive of the effort to fully reopen schools if the numbers of COVID-19 cases will allow it.

School board member Bill Wood said that the community will play an important part in enabling the schools to open and remain open by doing what they can to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The fewer cases there are in Avon Grove, the better it is for everyone.

The school board voted in favor of having the administration make the necessary preparations to fully reopen schools.

In other business in the meeting, Wood offered a Legislative Committee report in which he talked about how Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes significant increases in basic education funding. However, Wood said, the spending plan has met with significant resistance from Republicans in the State Legislature and is considered dead on arrival. Wood said that it’s good that the governor is prioritizing education funding but, with the opposition to the proposed state budget, it remains unclear whether school districts in Pennsylvania will see increases in funding levels for the next fiscal year.

Work is progressing well on the construction of a new high school. School board president Dorothy Linn said, “If you drive by, there’s a lot of steel work being done. It’s starting to look like there’s going to be a high there.”