August 21, 2020
Dear T/E Families and Staff,
I am writing today to share updated information about potential changes to our timeline for in-person instruction this fall. As we have shared previously, pandemic conditions and recommendations are continually evolving. On Friday, August 14, the Chester County Health Department (CCHD) recommended that schools in Chester and Delaware County remain virtual through at least October 9. Based on this recommendation, the TESD School Board will vote on extending virtual instruction until at least October 12. The start of the school year remains the same – all TESD students in grades 1-12 will begin school virtually on August 31, and kindergarten students will begin virtually on September 8.
The CCHD link above also provides metrics the District will consider when making the decision about whether or not to open schools for in-person learning after October 12 and with what instructional model. Like all school districts, we must adjust our reopening plans as we learn about emerging research and best practices for protecting our school community. In addition to the recent recommendations by the CCHD to delay the start of in-person instruction, I want the community to be aware of several other factors that may ultimately push the start of in-person instruction back even farther.
- Continuity of Education Concerns: There is a high likelihood that opening school in person too soon will lead to disruptive school closures which may interrupt educational continuity and introduce challenges for families with childcare needs. On August 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDOH) provided recommendations for when schools need to be closed due to COVID-19 cases. Since Chester County is currently in the moderate phase, two to four positive cases of students or staff in a school building within a 14-day period would result in a school closure for five to seven days. Five or more cases in a single school would result in a school closure of fourteen days. Based on models projecting the number of students who may test positive for COVID-19, we can expect to be closing and reopening our schools during the next few months.
- Staffing Concerns: Since TESD approved its phased reopening plan on July 29, the number of local school districts that have delayed opening through November or later has increased. Over 25 school districts in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties have extended their virtual learning programs through November. Please be aware that 94 percent of T/E staff members live in these counties. The decisions made by surrounding school districts may significantly impact our own school district. As we have done our very best through the pandemic to address the needs of District families, we must also recognize that our faculty and staff also face COVID-19 difficulties that make returning to our schools challenging. We may be faced with a reality of needing a very high number of substitutes or we may simply be unable to provide the staffing we need to operate and clean the schools. We believe the highest quality instruction is delivered by our own teachers and therefore, we will make decisions to support the ability of our teachers to deliver the instruction.
TESD Commitment Form Response
The selections made by families for virtual or hybrid instruction will be honored when schools reopen. The results of the commitment form responses are available on the TESD website. This information was invaluable to provide preliminary data to best, and most safely, schedule students. Thank you for responding so quickly to the commitment form.
High Quality TESD Instruction Delivered Virtually
To begin the school year, TESD is prepared to provide a robust virtual instructional program to all students that will include increased live, synchronous instruction of the TESD curriculum by TESD teachers. Teachers and staff continue to participate in summer workshops and inservice days, as well as additional training opportunities. These opportunities offer strategies for virtual instruction and integrated instruction that simultaneously includes face-to-face and distance learning. Ongoing staff development guidance will be available to teachers throughout the school year to keep our virtual learning program strong. Plans have been developed to provide technology support to our teachers, students and families. More details about student schedules, teacher assignments and other back-to-school information will be communicated by your child’s school within the coming week.
We understand that some students with intensive special needs may need additional support this year. Following guidance from the CCHD, we will begin transitioning to in-person instruction on or about September 21 for small groups of special education students who demonstrate the highest level of need for learning in school. TESD has been communicating and meeting with these families.
Student Mental Health Remains a Priority
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we socialize and interact with one another and there has been increased anxiety and depression reported as a result. We know this has been a particularly difficult time for children and TESD is committed to continuing to provide mental health support for students. As part of the regular curriculum, all students will have opportunities to participate in live sessions focusing on community-building, social/emotional well-being, resiliency, connectedness, developmental guidance, bullying prevention and digital citizenship. In addition, school counselors and mental health specialists will meet with students on an individual or group basis to support students’ emotional and mental health needs throughout the school year, regardless of virtual or in-person attendance. If you have any concerns about your child’s mental or emotional health, please contact your school principal or school counselor. We also have mental health resources available in the reopening section of our website at www.tesd.net/reopening.
Interscholastic sports require collective action by schools to facilitate play between schools. As you may know, Governor Wolf and the CCHD have recommended that school and recreational youth sports be postponed until at least January 2021. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) met today, August 21, to continue discussion of these recommendations. Other governing bodies such as District 1 and the Central League will need to consider the guidelines set forth by the PIAA.
Our local sports options for TESD will be determined largely by the decisions of these organizations. In the meanwhile, the District will continue to allow off-season activities in accordance with our District-approved health and safety plan. Our athletic department will share more information with parents and athletes once a more final decision has been made.
Over the past few months, we have heard many very different ideas and proposed approaches for our schools to take as we reopen. We do appreciate hearing all these thoughtful perspectives. Thank you for sharing your comments. We remain committed to opening schools in the best way possible that balances academic and social needs with recommendations from health authorities. Despite these challenges, I know I speak for our teachers and staff when I say that we have the same enthusiasm and excitement we have every year as we get ready to welcome students back to school.
Dr. Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools