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Board votes in favor of 5 days of in-person instruction

By a 7-2 vote, the Williamsport Area School Board reversed a recent decision to remain in the hybrid model of instruction, paving the way for students to return to five-day, in-person instruction beginning with elementary students on Nov. 2, followed by secondary students on Nov. 9.

The vote took place at a special meeting called to discuss the issue.

Voting for the measure were: Lori Baer. Patrick Dixon, Jennifer Lake, Jane Penman, Marc Shefsky, Nancy Story Somers and Adam Welteroth. Voting no were Barbara Reeves and Star Poole.

The vote followed a presentation by Dr. Timothy S. Bowers, superintendent. In making the case for students to return to school full-time, Bowers noted the hybrid system of learning was never meant to be year-long.

Bowers cited data showing that in the hybrid model there has been a significant increase in absenteeism, based on three or more absences.

“Then we look at academic data at some achievement gaps,” Bowers said. “There’s a gap and it’s nobody’s fault. Students just aren’t hanging in there with us for multiple reasons.”

“We know that if a student fails a course, they’re likely because of face to face interaction and teachers who truly care, we can typically help them through a failed course. But if that’s two failed courses or three failed courses, the statistics are not good to get those kids back on track. It’s harder and harder if there’s multiple course failures. And this is trending that way,” he shared.

Bowers stated that there were 32 percent overall of course failures in the hybrid remote model.

“If they’re not connecting, they’re not learning,” he added.

Bowers admitted that the difficulties with the hybrid model were not all on the user end of the system – students and their families.

“It’s also on us as a district, getting comfortable giving those lessons that kids can connect to and can understand enough and try to fill in that gap,” he said.

“The most important thing is that face to face interaction with a quality, high performing teacher,” he stressed.

Those arguing in favor of staying in the hybrid model pointed out problems with the virtual platform that students have been using and the glitches they have faced causing work to be lost or not turned in.

Many who spoke – including students – said they would prefer to remain in the remote model, but hoped that the district could make it more robust while also solving those problems.

They cited the smaller class sizes with having only part of the students in school at a time and the ability to socially distance because of those class sizes.

On the other side, several parents spoke of wanting their students back full-time because of the difficulties with not only the platform, but with trying to work and help their child with their schoolwork.

Although the board voted to discontinue the hybrid model of instruction, students may still have the full-remote option. At one, point the district had capped that option, with 970 students now in the remote program.

Bowers said the results of the parent survey showed that at least 135 people whose children are now in fully remote instruction would want their student to go to full-time, in-person instruction – which, if that happens, could possibly open up those spaces for other students. Student participation in the remote program would be based on their ability to maintain proficiency in that platform.

Once the motion passed, Bowers said the important thing now is to bring the students back to school face-to-face and then try to figure out where the academic gaps are and to work out a recovery plan for students to determine what they missed during the first semester.

“Back when we were first planning in the summer for a COVID response, we already had a five-day plan. So we already have it figured out,” Bowers said, referring to the mitigation efforts necessary to bring the students back safely.

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