Enrichment & Review
March 25, 2020 the Board of Directors of the Hempfield School District held a special virtual meeting of the Board using Zoom. The following information is from the Superintendent’s Report.
First, thank you to our board members and staff for making this virtual meeting a possibility. Also, thank you to all of our school community members who are joining to listen virtually to today’s meeting. This is a new experience for us from a board meeting standpoint so thank you in advance for your patience this afternoon/evening.
Our way of life has been drastically impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Furthermore, our state’s public education system came to an immediate halt around 3 p.m. on Friday, March 13 when Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all PA public schools through Friday, March 27. As a result of this order, we had to figure out how to continue operating as a district with approximately 1,500 employees who work in 11 buildings and across more than 1 million square feet of property. At the top of our mind was how we could continue to provide for our students’ basic needs during this forced closure. Also, we were faced with determining what our district was permitted to do from an educational standpoint.
Within five working days, we took our entire district from operating in a face-to-face setting to a virtual organization where we could continue to provide social assistance to our students. Yes, we still have some essential employees’ onsite conducting work, but we have many 12-month employees working remotely. This was a huge accomplishment and, while it took many hours and long days, I’m extremely proud of our Hempfield team for the effort, time, and energy they spent making this transition! I also want to give a special thanks for our Food Services, Custodial and Maintenance team members for all of their hard work and commitment to our students and district.
From an education standpoint, providing remote or virtual instruction for all learners continues to be our greatest challenge. As a public school system, we must adhere to PA School Code, board policy, and state, and federal laws. From the moment we were forced to close, everyone began to express their own opinions of what schools should be doing. And while it’s natural to compare school districts – now, more than ever, we simply cannot make comparisons. Every public school district and community has its own strengths and challenges, yet we are all responsible to provide ALL of our learners with a free and appropriate public education. In education lingo – this is known as FAPE.
I know that many parents and guardians are ready for their students to get back into the routine of school. We are too!
Regarding technology devices, some public school districts are fully 1:1, some partially 1:1, some are not ready for 1:1. This is why is it extremely critical that we do not compare what we are doing with what others are doing. Hempfield is a 1:1 district, which means that every student has access at school to an iPad. When this initiative was approved in 2014, the goal was that the iPads would support or enhance teaching and learning. The use of iPads was never intended to move the district into a fully on-line learning environment. So again, I want to reiterate that it is extremely critical that we do not compare what we are doing with what others are doing.
There are many misperceptions and questions circulating in our school community, and I want to address a few of them here.
Are we going to be required to make up the missed school days?
The PA Department of Education (known as PDE) is asking districts to make a good faith effort in providing education to our students. PDE will work with districts who are having difficulty adhering to the day and hour requirements. We will be adjusting our 2019-2020 calendar and bringing back recommendations to the School Board at our April meeting. I can say that, at this time, we will have school on Tuesday, April 14 as this was originally a snow makeup day. Other recommended changes to the calendar will be addressed in April.
The Federal government/United States Department of Education said that school districts do not need to adhere to FAPE requirements.
This is simply not accurate. On March 21, 2020, the United States Department of Education issued guidance to school districts. In terms of FAPE, their statement is as follows:
- “School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education & Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. However, school district must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online or telephonically.”
So, while it may appear there is some flexibility, districts must still adhere to special education timelines, hold meetings, conduct evaluations, ensure that anything we do virtually has the proper adaptations and accommodations for student needs, and more. This does not mean that our district will not do things, it just means we need to be patient, work collaboratively with families, and carefully plan meaningful educational learning opportunities for students.
Our district is behind. We should have been able to get to online learning faster, like other PA districts, states, private schools, and colleges.
- First and foremost, we cannot compare ourselves to other states, private schools, or colleges. They have different requirements/regulations they are permitted to follow.
- A law was passed in the spring of 2019 to allow districts to provide flexible instructional days. There are only about 80 school districts in PA that were accepted to provide up to five flexible instructional days (FIDs). School districts had a very short window to work through the entire application process, and no school districts in Lancaster County were accepted to provide FIDs.
- True on-line learning, instruction, and course development is something that companies spend millions of dollars on because there are many requirements (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act) that must be adhered to.
- There is a vast different between “on-line learning and instruction” and continuing to provide educational opportunities in a virtual setting.
- Also, please remember that in our school community, we have community members who do not have access and parents/guardians work schedules are not all the same which creates an un-leveled playing field. We must have, and frankly desire, equity for all students.
Our teachers are getting paid to do nothing.
Our teachers are not working right now. Think of this forced closure like snow days. These are non-work days for some of our employees. Our teachers are contracted to work 189 and get paid for 189 work days. I know that our outstanding staff are ready to get back to working with students and will do whatever it takes to ensure a smooth and successful end to our school year.
District communication has been non-existent.
We recognize that everyone has their own perception or opinion of what we should be doing. Here is what we have done to date from a communication standpoint.
- Every day, our district sends individual building updates at 4:00 pm. If you are not getting these messages, please go to hempfieldsd.org and click on the link that says: “How to Sign Up for Building Specific Emails.” These messages have continued during the forced closure.
- We established the HSD Coronavirus Update Center on our website to house all important and essential information, including community updates that have been sent out every day since March 16. This is located under the Student Services tab.
- Beginning Monday, March 16, our district began providing district-wide staff updates at 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to keep our entire staff informed.
- On Monday, March 23, we offered a voluntary district-wide virtual staff meeting to provide updates and had almost 500 staff members participate. I have committed to our staff that we will do one of these weekly for as long as we need to.
What impact will Senate Bill 751 have on schools?
- This bill offers much needed relief and direction for schools. I’m very appreciative that the General Assembly adjusted their rules to allow for remote voting and are taking the necessary action to amend School Code to address the concerns of public schools related to the mandated closure.
- We will continue to gather more information and inform our staff and community of the impact of this bill.
As I have shared, as a public school district we are required to, and firmly believe that we must, ensure a free and appropriate public education for all learners. All means all, and I know our community supports us in ensuring that we do whatever we can to provide EVERY learner with access to his or her teacher.
So, as a district, we are doing the following during the closure:
- Working to ensure that every teacher has internet access to connect remotely with his/her students and provide them with meaningful learning opportunities.
- Working to ensure that every student has internet access to connect remotely to his/her teacher and access learning opportunities.
- Working to ensure that every student has some type of device to connect remotely with his/her teacher and classmates.
- Working to ensure that we do our best to provide FAPE for all learners.
At this time, Mrs. Maria Hoover and Dr. Tab Musser, district assistant superintendents, along with Ms. Dee Galen, our Director of Special Education, Mr. Michael Graham, Chief Information Officer, and Mr. Jeremy Paul, our Director of Instructional Technology, will provide you with an overview of our short and long-term plan to provide continuity of education for ALL learners in the Hempfield School District.
Thank you for understanding that everything we have shared this afternoon will continue to be evaluated and revised or updated, as needed. We are all beginners with this and therefore, this will not be perfect. But, we will not give up…we will persevere through this.
Finally, please take care of yourself and your family. We hope you will strongly consider limiting or eliminating your participation in group gatherings. Governor Wolf closed schools in an effort to try and reduce the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), so let’s all do our part!
Hempfield School District
Superintendent of Schools