So many teachers have said they will not teach in Boyertown Area School District buildings that the district has abandoned its plan for partial in-person instruction and will start the school year online only.
The change was announced in a letter sent home to parents Aug. 21 and signed by Marybeth Torchia who, for the second time in as many years, has been tapped to run the district while a new superintendent is sought.
The district has set a "target date" of Oct. 5 for a potential return to partial-in-person instruction.
"Our professional and support staffing shortages have significantly exceeded this administration’s expectations," Torchia wrote.
"Our staffing shortages have grown and continue to grow on a daily basis — sometimes by five or more employees per day," Torchia wrote. "Even with bringing back our furloughed Temporary Professional Employees and tapping into our available substitute resources, the bottom line is that there simply are not enough human resources available to cover the face-to-face learning needs of our students safely and with health as a priority."
"We understand that many will be disappointed, even angered, by this current development. We know that it directly impacts the lives of families across our district in countless ways. Please know that this decision was not made lightly," "Torcia wrote.
"Countless numbers of you have watched as we worked diligently on a plan that included face-to-face instruction, and as our board of school directors fought to give parents options for learning. There is nothing we can do other than to apologize and explain the last-minute changes that have led to our decision at this late date," she wrote.
The change is not the first about-face for whiplashed Boyertown parents.
In the July 21 meeting, a majority of board members asked the administration to show them what a full, in-person opening of school would look like. This request came immediately after the administration had outlined a complicated "scaffolding plan," that spread students among several buildings by using a half-on-line, half in-person method.
Board members James Brophy, Roger Updegrove, Christine Neiman, Ruth Dieolf and Brian Hemingway said that while they appreciated the work that the administration had put into drawing up the plan, they favored what Hemingway called "a more aggressive approach," at the July 21 meeting.
The community uproar, both for and against this idea, was immediate and led to many unfriendly communications to board members.
Two weeks later, the board majority backed off this idea and returned to endorsing Superintendent Dana Bedden's "scaffolding plan."
That same night, the Centennial School District in Bucks County, voted to hire Bedden as its new superintendent, leaving a district in uncharted waters in the hands of the remaining Boyertown administration, although Bedden pledged to stay on board until the opening of school. His resignation is effective Sept. 4.
Now, the concern teachers feel about the safety of in-person instruction — amid headlines of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools that have opened in-person — has once again reversed the district's plans.
According to Torchia, another factor affected this latest turnabout.
"Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an update to their guidance strongly recommending children age two and older should wear face coverings at all times to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus," she wrote.
"Prior guidance released in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Health stated students in schools could remove their face coverings as long as six feet of social distancing could be maintained," wrote Torcia. "Given this recent change from the AAP, and consistent with the Secretary of Health’s Face Covering Order issued on July 1, 2020, (the department of health) is requiring students wear face coverings at all times while in school, even when six feet of social distancing can be achieved."
As a result of these two factors, all students will begin the year using the BASD Virtual Learning platform, with specific special education students being returned to in-person instruction within three weeks, depending on their individualized education plan.
"PreK Counts students will be face-to-face Monday through Thursday beginning on Monday, Aug. 31. Our PreK students will participate in remote learning on Fridays," according to Torchia. "This is a separate program. Children in this program do not require transportation and staffing is not an issue."
Boyertown students attending Berks County Technical Center will continue within the center's hybrid model and will still be transported by the district, "in combination with their BASD Virtual Learning," according to Torchia's letter.
She wrote that the district will be "daily monitoring our staffing needs and explore options available to us for filling those needs," which could include recruiting teachers furloughed from other districts.
"We will monitor the impact of the pandemic as it specifically pertains to our BASD communities — regardless of their specific county location. Most importantly, every effort of our administrative team will be focused on a timely return to face-to-face learning as soon as possible," Torchia wrote.