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Williamsport Area School Board votes to remain in hybrid learning

A motion to bring students back for five-day in-person instruction failed twice to gain approval by the Williamsport Area School Board.

The vote came after the board had been informed of the results of a survey that the district had sent to parents asking whether they wanted their children to return to in-person instruction or remain in the instructional model they were currently in, either fully remote or hybrid. A majority of the respondents had indicated that they wanted their student to return to school for in-person instruction five days a week.

Of the 3,044 households in the district, representing a student enrollment of 4,850, the district received 2,425 responses or 79.6 percent of the total number of households. According to the survey, that number represented 3,870 students who were identified by grade level. The number of students in the hybrid model were 1,845, the remote, 440 and a combination of the two, 140.

When asked if they would send their students, who are currently in the hybrid model, for five days a week for in-person instruction, 1,422 replied yes and 52 said no, that they wanted their child to remain in the hybrid model. Of the parents of children who are attending in the remote program, 135 said that they would send their student for in-person instruction.

Also entering into the discussion by board members was a report by the administration that many students are struggling to meet academic standards in the hybrid and remote education models and are actually failing courses. Absenteeism is also greater this school year compared to last year, it was noted.

Board president Lori Baer commented that it was like a “punch in the gut” to learn how much students are struggling.

“This survey that we asked to be done, shows that our parents very much want their students back in the classroom, and the data supports that,” she said. “We can think we’re doing a great job, but they’re struggling.”

Another board member, Barbara Reeves, questioned if the safety of students would be jeopardized by some of the safety measures being removed if more students were in school buildings at the same time.

“We are taking away some of the precautionary measures with the buses being overcrowded, classes that will be crowded. Not allowing students to be socially distant from one another,” Reeves said.

In the introduction to the survey, parents were told that if the district returned to five-day in-person instruction that the guidelines from the state’s department of education would be implemented as much as possible, but that the recommended six feet of social distancing would not be able to be achieved in all areas of the schools, such as classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and on buses.

Parents were also cautioned that if the hybrid model was eliminated and there were outbreaks of the coronavirus in the district, that could result in quarantines of more students and staff at the classroom, school or full district level.

The district also informed parents that it is no longer enrolling students in the remote learning platform and that any remote student who is failing one or more courses at the end of the first nine weeks may be moved into the five-day in-person schedule.

District Superintendent Timothy S. Bowers, told the board that from the health and safety aspect, the hybrid model worked to keep students safe, but from the academic students are struggling with it.

“The only thing I can say is we have to sit down and look at this academic data and try to figure out if we’re going to stay in this hybrid model, then we’ll have to try and figure out how to reach those kids on remote days.” Bowers said, adding that the district needed to see if they could get more support for the families to help the kids.

Bowers stressed that the best model for education is face-to-face instruction, but he added that “we just have to figure out a way we can make this model (hybrid) robust enough that we can help those kids on remote days.”

The voting fell along the same line both times the motion was made. Voting for the measure were: Baer, Jane Penman, Marc Shefsky and Adam Welteroth. Voting against were: Reeves, Nancy Story Somers, Jennifer Lake and Patrick Dixon. Absent was Star Poole.

Comments from parents attending the meeting also were split on the topic, some in favor of getting students back to in-person instruction and others concerned advocating for improving the hybrid model.

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