SOUDERTON — Parents of students in the Souderton Area School District will have a choice of in-school or online classes for their children under the reopening plan unanimously approved by the school board July 23.

“The traditional in-person option that families have to choose from is exactly that — very similar to what we all know and love about our school,” Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Katie Kennedy-Reilly said during a July 20 committee meeting at which the reopening plans were presented.

The other option is the Souderton Area Online Academy, she said.

This is not the same type of remote learning as during this spring's shutdown, she said. 

“This is planned comprehensive instruction for our students meeting the guidelines of set practices in cyber education,” she said. “Classes are taught by our Souderton Area teachers. Our curriculum aligns to our brick and mortar programs.”

Some other school districts are buying packaged curriculum for online teaching that doesn't match what's being taught in class, Superintendent Frank Gallagher later said in answer to a question.

“We feel that it's really important for our teachers to teach this program and for our curriculum to be implemented whether you're coming to school or you're virtual,” he said.

The district is not currently planning to offer a hybrid version in which students spend part of their time in class and part online, but could quickly change to that if required to do so, Gallagher said.

The hybrid option reduces the number of students in the building at a time.

Souderton Area has large enough rooms and has done other things such as removing some of the furniture from the rooms to meet the social distancing requirements without going hybrid, Gallagher said.

If the district were to do a hybrid, it would not do so for the elementary grades, he said.

“First of all, I strongly believe a hybrid consideration is a logistical nightmare and might cause actually more problems than it solves, and I really believe, absolutely believe all children need to be in school,” Gallagher said, “but in particular elementary children really need to be in school and we are confident that we can do this in a safe way and keep all of our children safe.”

Almost 70 percent of the district parents responded to a survey to help create the reopening plans, Gallagher said. About 600 people tuned in to watch the presentation at the committee meeting, board President Ken Keith said. Because of the restrictions on group gatherings, the board meetings and committee meetings are currently held as video-conferences.

The school district earlier said students would not be required to wear face masks, but the state has since mandated it, so the district plan has changed, Director of Pupil Services Megan Zweiback said.

“Students and staff will be required to have a face mask or a face shield,” she said. “They'll be required to wear that when physical distancing is not feasible.”

That includes when on the bus or other transportation vehicles, in smaller areas of the building, when going between classes or whenever instructed to do so by the staff, she said.

There will not be more than two students to a seat on school buses and siblings will sit together, she said. Drivers will wear a mask or shield when students are entering or leaving the bus, but not while driving, she said.

Elementary school breakfasts will be in the classrooms, with breakfast available for secondary students in the cafeteria or hallway kiosks, Assistant Superintendent Christopher Hey said.

“We've redesigned our elementary lunch schedule so that only one grade of students will be in a lunch room at any one time. That'll enable us to keep those children distanced while they're eating,” he said.

The students will remove their masks while eating, he said.

They will be seated six feet apart and all facing in the same direction, he said.

The food items will be pre-packaged, with contactless pick-up and contactless check-out by the students, he said.

At Indian Valley Middle School and Souderton Area High School, four-season tents will be set up in the courtyard to provide more lunch space, he said. At Indian Crest Middle School, a large group instructional room will be used along with the cafeteria, he said.

Windows in classrooms and on buses will be opened where and when possible in order to increase ventilation, Hey and Zwiback said.

The school reopening plans and video of the meetings is posted on the school district web site, with additional information and Frequently Asked Questions sections being added, Gallagher said.

The requirements also frequently change, so the district will continue to update the information, he said.

The July 23 meeting also included approval of breakfast and lunch prices for the 2020-2021 school year. The price of breakfast is $1.75 for students in all grades. Lunch is $3 in the elementary schools, $3.25 in the middle schools and $3.60 at the high school. Adult breakfast is $2.90; adult lunch is $4.80.

In a separate matter, Gallagher said additional information about the district's new Equity Committee will be posted and parents, students and businesspeople will be added to the team.

“First and foremost, I feel it is important to reaffirm that the Souderton Area School District strives to be a school community free from prejudice, racism, and intolerance,” Gallagher wrote in an “Equity in Souderton Area School District” posting on the district website. “We unequivocally condemn acts of race-based violence and any intolerant rhetoric which seeks to divide us. In SASD, we actively work to build an inclusive school community that values diversity, and we stand united against hate in any form.”

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