THOMASBORO — The Thomasboro Grade School board rejected a teachers union request to start the school year with all-remote instruction but delayed the start date a second time at its July 21 meeting. The board had already approved a delay from the original balanced calendar July start date to Aug. 10.
“In this historically difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the substantial and increasing health risks at local, state and national levels, concerns to the safety of our school have been brought to the attention of the (Thomasboro Education) Association,” said association Co-President Julie Quinn. “We are here today to bring these concerns to your attention and to urge that we as a district consider remote instruction at the start of this school year. As educators, we absolutely understand and embrace all of the positives of direct, in-person instruction and truly believe that it is the ideal way to teach. But these are not ideal times; indeed these are most extraordinary times, and every day as we get closer to the start of the fall term, we grow more and more anxious for our students and their families, our coworkers and ourselves. We miss our students, and wish them and their families well, but at present many of us do not feel that we can guarantee their safety with in-person instruction.”
The district is offering parents the choice of remote or blended (mix of in-person and remote) instruction.
Superintendent Bonnie McArthur said 120 students have been registered, a “significant drop” from last year’s enrollment of 167.
Of the 120, about two-thirds are registered for blended instruction and one-third for remote instruction. That distribution permits blended instruction students to be in school Monday through Thursday and at home for remote instruction on Friday.
The agenda called for two straightforward votes: approval of the blended and remote instruction plans. Over the course of a lengthy discussion that included comments from several teachers, the two votes turned into five.
The first approved the blended instruction plan 5-2 with board members Tom Henkelman and Karen Morgan casting dissenting votes.
The second vote to begin Aug. 10 with all-remote instruction failed 5-2 with board members Tom Henkelman and Karen Morgan voting in favor.
The third vote, simply to approve the remote instruction plan, passed on a unanimous vote.
The fourth vote to start the year with blended learning (along with the remote choice) passed on five votes. Morgan voted no and Henkelman abstained.
Morgan, who raised concerns that teaching remotely and in-person was putting too large a burden on teachers, pushed for an Aug. 24 start date. That would put the district a week behind the Aug. 17 start date of other area districts and mandate significant changes to the school-year calendar. But, she argued, it would give the district time to observe what happens in other districts opening with in-person instruction.
A final motion was made to delay the start date to Aug. 24. It carried 4-1 with two abstentions. Henkelman voted no. Derek Wolken and Matthew Bartell abstained.
“I think that might be a good compromise,” McArthur said. “It puts us behind everybody else’s start date and gives us a little viewing of what everybody else is doing first. It very well could be a good compromise.”
In two other COVID-19 related actions, the board approved a job description for a school nurse; Return to School Health Plan for Families and Health and Safety Protocols and Procedures.
The board unanimously approved two resignations and acted not to accept a third. Music teacher Michelle Moran and counselor Kathleen Wirth-Couch resigned.
Day custodian Julius Sotero told the board he had decided to stay in the job and asked the board to reconsider the resignation he had tendered the first week of July. The board had not yet acted on his resignation, but Quinn said procedures required the reconsideration request rather than a simple withdrawal of the resignation.
Sotero cited improvements he had made during the year he had been employed.
“During the last school building inspection, the building inspector told me this is the first time he inspected the building without seeing a need for immediate attention to fix something,” Sotero said. “The building is nice, organized and clean.”
Quinn and the other teachers in attendance supported Sotero with testimonials about his contributions to the district.
“We couldn’t get a much better employee,” Megan Stauffer said. “He has a great work ethic. We have a very clean building. I never have to worry about (my classroom) being taken care of. He really does contribute to the overall school environment. I can’t think of a grade level that’s not excited to see him come down the hall.”
The board also approved a memorandum of understanding regarding summer IEP work.
Seven board policies on the agenda as a first reading were tabled to the Aug. 18 board meeting. The policies cover procedures regarding students, board meetings and pandemic preparedness.