Montgomery County schools can reopen after virtual mandate ends

Monday, December 7, 2020
Montco schools can reopen, if they choose to, after virtual mandate ends
After two weeks of mandatory virtual learning, districts have made their decisions on whether to return to the classroom.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the virtual learning mandate in Montgomery County ended Monday, several school districts found themselves scrambling to make last-minute changes while others returned to their pre-mandate routine.

The students in the Souderton Area School District will be the only ones with the option of full in-person instruction.

"We were offered all-virtual or all-in. And we chose to go all-in to do what's best for our children," said Souderton parent Christine DiLella as she waited for her daughter's school bus.

Along with the full-time in-person option for students, parents in Souderton also have the option of full-time virtual instruction.

"I want to assure you that we are continuing to closely coordinate with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health on all matters related to the pandemic," Superintendent Frank Gallagher said in a letter last week. "We are focusing on following our health and safety plan in an effort to maintain in-person instruction for our students."

According to the latest data, 19 of the more than 4,500 students currently have COVID-19. Two staff members also have tested positive. The district said none of those transmissions have occurred in-school.

District officials are confident that they can keep the school buildings open, but encourage parents to have a back up plan.

Souderton students like Milan DiLella are happy to be returning to classrooms.

"We were virtual justice this week before," she said. "So I'm just really excited."

The other 21 districts in Montgomery County are nearly evenly split between hybrid and virtual learning curriculums.

Pottsgrove School District was slated to go hybrid, but so many teachers called in sick, the district had to do a last-minute switch back to virtual. Superintendent William Shirk sent an update to parents on Sunday.

"This closure is defined as a 'functional closure' due to inadequate staffing. Please note, this closure is not due to COVID-19 positivity in PGSD facilities," the letter said. "Staying virtual for another week will allow us to gather more accurate data from the Montgomery County Department of Health following the Thanksgiving holiday."

Spring-Ford Area School District is also switching its plan back to all-virtual. The district planned to do a mix of in-person and hybrid, but rising COVID numbers changed those plans.

"While we were planning to return to in-person learning tomorrow, there has been a significant increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Spring-Ford footprint including Limerick Township, Upper Providence Township, Royersford Borough, and Spring City Borough. As a result, we will delay the return to in-person learning for ALL schools at this time," a message from Spring-Ford Superintendent Dr. David Goodin reads. "As always, the safety and well-being of our students, staff and families is our top priority."

Lower Moreland will continue its plan to go hybrid, despite nearly a dozen staff members being in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

A letter was sent home to parents in the district Sunday, saying one student and 11 staff members have tested positive or were exposed to someone who was.

"It has been determined that impacted K-12 classrooms can be supported by adults to maintain health/safety and supervision to begin our week of December 7," the letter from Superintendent Scott Davidheiser said.

Parents and guardians of Lower Moreland students who attend in-person instruction beginning Monday are being asked to monitor their child's health using the Daily Health Questionnaire provided by the district.

The Methacton School District will remain all virtual.

"Our superintendent has signed the attestation stating that they intend to return to hybrid on January 4," said Methacton parent Jessica Bradbury who has a daughter in second grade.

Bradbury has joined with other parents in the district to form a group called Methacton VICE (Valuing In-Classroom Eduction), which held a rally Sunday advocating for parents to have a choices other than virtual school.

"We don't want students or teachers to return if they don't feel safe. We just want there to be a choice that many districts around us are receiving," Bradbury said.

The Methacton school board will meet Monday night as districts, not the county, have the final say on if and when to reopen.

"The office in public health has the ability to require schools to close. But we do not have the authority to make schools open," Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, Montgomery County Commissioner, said last week.


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