Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Boyertown School Board OKs Hybrid Return by 7-2

With a 7-2 vote, the Boyertown School Board Tuesday night approved the "scaffolding" plan for a part-time return to school that had originally been proposed by the administration.

Board members Ruth Dierolf and Christine Neiman, both citing families' need to have their children in school so parents can work, cast the two no votes.

Stressing that the plan continues to evolve as conditions change, Superintendent Dana Bedden, noted one new element, which the board also approved, is moving the first day of school from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31.

The plan calls for elementary students to attend their neighborhood schools five days a week, but for the fifth and sixth grades to be moved to Boyertown's two middle schools for live instruction.

(Bedden warned circumstances may require that elementary students only attend in-person classes four days a week, with Friday being reserved for on-line learning, but that decision has not been made yet.)

Seventh, eighth and ninth graders will be taught in-person in the high school building three days a week, with the other two days doing on-line learning.

Grades 10, 11 and 12 would attend the high school two days a week and undertake online learning the other three days.

Additionally, the district has developed a fully on-line virtual program taught by Boyertown teachers, as much to prepare for another full-shut down, as to give parents another option.

In fact, Bedden said "I will be shocked if the state doesn't turn around and make us go virtual. This plan allows for that."

The district will also continue to offer the virtual program offered through the Berks County Intermediate Unit, said Michael Stoudt, the district's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

The approval had a bumpy road to the finish line. Two weeks ago when it was outlined for the board at the July 14 meeting, five board members -- Dierolf, Neiman, James Brophy, Roger Updegrove and Brian Hemingway -- indicated they wanted to see what a full return to school would look like. 

Thrown by the request, Superintendent Dana Bedden and his team came back to the board at a hastily called board meeting seven days later and told them essentially, that it could not be done and still meet the safety protocols being recommended by national and state health authorities.

After weather a flood of opinion on both sides of the question, board members Brophy, Hemingway and Dierolf all said they were only asking to see what a full open would look like.

During Tuesday's meeting, which attracted more than 600 people, Brophy said again that those board members who had asked for an alternative "were only doing our due diligence, so we had something to compare" the administration's recommendation to.

"There are a lot of things the administration just can't mitigate," said Brophy "There is some gain in health and wellness" in the hybrid plan, "but as for academics, it's a distant second."

Nevertheless, "voting no would subject parents, students and teachers to limbo again and I won't do that. I don't fully support this plan but it allows us to move forward," Brophy said.

"We have to move on, we have to get something going," said Updegrove.

"I'm not crazy about this either, but we have to submit a plan," said Hemingway. "We need to trust the people we hire to make recommendations and we need to think about whether this will work, and be
Boyertown School Board President
Brandon Foose

"Perhaps," said Hemingway, "the community is going to have to make sacrifices for the school district."

School board member Lisa Hogan said the plan "puts health and safety first, which si where it belongs."

"We've done the best we can to offer something for everyone," said board member Jill Dennin. "Each family will have to decide what's best for their child."

"At the end of the day, schools can't be all things to all people," said Bedden. 

"It absolutely is a compromise," said School Board President Brandon Foose. "Under the circumstances, we have to be flexible."

Next, the district plans to undertake another survey of families to determine more details on the options now approved.

Bedden Leaving?

Dana Bedden is welcomed to the Boyertown
School District two years ago.
It does not appear that Bedden will be around much longer to implement the plan.

Another school board was holding a meeting Tuesday night. The Centennial School District in Bucks County also met to vote on offering Bedden the superintendent's post, making him the county's first-ever African-American superintendent.

It is unknown at this writing how the vote went, but a press release posted Monday on the district's website indicated the board "plans to vote to approve Dr. Dana Bedden as the next Superintendent of Schools for the Centennial School District."

The release also indicated Bedden's desire to take the post. It includes a statement from him which reads: 
“It is an honor to be extended an opportunity to work collaboratively with the Centennial School District (CSD) School Board in establishing a clear education vision that is student and safety centered. I believe my over twenty-seven years of education experience, serving in a variety of positions could help me to work with the school board in providing the staff and students with a focused and aligned teaching and learning program where students can find success through academics, athletics, and the arts while serving the CSD community. It is also truly encouraging to have read the resolution released by CSD which publicly acknowledges a responsibility to speak against injustice, racial inequity, and to foster an equitable and inclusive environment for every student, staff member, parent, and community member.”
The release also "invites all community members to meet Dr. Bedden on Monday, Aug.3, 2020 at a virtual forum."

Bedden was hired only two years ago after a year-long search. He has promised to stay on board "through the beginning of the school year," according to a press release posted on Boyertown's website.

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