BOYERTOWN — An increase in the rate of coronavirus infections in Berks County has scuttled the Boyertown Area School District's plans to expand in-person instruction for its younger students next week.
During an Oct. 13 meeting, the school board had decided it was safe for students in grades K through 5 to return to in-person instruction five days a week and had planned to do so starting Oct. 26.
Currently, all Boyertown students learn online on Wednesdays.
Half of the district's students are in class two days a week and take classes online three days a week. On the alternative two days of the week, the other half of the district's students get in-person instruction.
Although Boyertown's return plans called for no change to the upper grades, it was decided at the Oct. 13 meeting that the elementary grades would return to class five days a week.
Late last week, the district even sent home a survey to get a handle on how many students would be returning to class.
But coronavirus concerns can undo the best-laid plans and a week after the school board decided to move forward, and a week before the change could be put into effect, the district had to reverse course again.
Since July, Berks County's incidences of viral cases has put it in the "moderate" category.
Montgomery County, which comprises half the district, has maintained the lowest coronavirus case rate in Southeastern Pennsylvania but is nevertheless also in the "moderate" category.
But just last week, a steady rise in cases moved Berks County from the "moderate" into the "substantial" category.
As a result, Boyertown had to cancel its expanded in-person instruction plans.
"The Boyertown Area School District will continue to offer all of the available instructional models currently in place for our students, " Acting Superintendent Marybeth Torchia wrote in an Oct. 20 letter home to parents.
"We will NOT be making any changes to our current models at this time. The plans outlined at (the Oct. 13) committee of the Whole School Board Meeting will NOT be put into practice at this time," according to Torchia.
"Students in grades K–5, 6 and 9 will continue to follow their current schedules. Elementary students will NOT return to five-day in-person instruction. Students in grades 6 and 9 will NOT participate in in-person learning on Wednesdays. Everything will remain as it is today," Torchia wrote.
This is not the first time Boyertown families may have suffered whiplash regarding district plans in the time of coronavirus.
In the lead-up to the opening of school in July, a divided school board had insisted former superintendent Dana Bedden provide it with a model for returning to class with all students in class.
But two weeks later, the board voted 7-2 to reopen classes with partial on-line, partial in-person instruction.
Both Boyertown and Daniel Boone school districts began the school year with some form of in-person instruction.
Most regional school districts in Chester and Montgomery County began the year with all virtual online instruction.
The Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley school districts have shifted to partial, or hybrid, in-person instruction for some grades.
Plans are underway for similar changes in Pottsgrove, Phoenixville and Spring-Ford school districts.
It remains to be seen of the fall surge in coronavirus cases experts forecast and which seems to have manifested in Berks County will remain low enough to allow those plans to move forward.
"We remain committed to closely monitoring the situation within our district and throughout our local municipalities and to working with (Department of Health and Pennsylvania Department of Education), as well as our surrounding school districts to review the mitigation metrics and strategies," Torchia wrote in her letter to parents.
"Throughout the foreseeable future, we will provide our families with weekly status updates and any additional communications as the situation warrants," she wrote.