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Community Conversation: Instructional Model Update - VIDEO AND FAQs

UCFSD Instructional Model Update FAQ


1) Will students be able to continue to remote in for the rest of the year? 

Yes, students will be able to remote in for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. We made this commitment to our families and we will not change this in the middle of the school year.


2) Can the District reduce social distance to 3 feet to make room for more students in person? 

On February 19, two days after our community conversation, the Chester County Health Department released new guidance allowing school districts to reduce the physical distancing requirement to less than 6 feet for students. They continue to recommend 6 feet of physical distance for staff (both staff to student and staff to staff). The CCHD will permit this after three consecutive weeks of a county community transmission rate of high, moderate, or low and in conjunction with continued layered mitigation measures. Following this guidance, the earliest we would be able to implement a change would be March 15, 2021.


3) Why do we need to keep the virtual Wednesdays at the Middle School? 

The schedule at the middle school was designed to balance several factors. One was to have no lunch on the schedule. This mitigation measure, during substantial community spread of COVID-19, enhances student and staff health and safety.  Also, the middle school staff did not feel longer periods, such as at the high school, would be a successful modification for their students. They wanted students to have their normal academic schedule during in-person learning time. Therefore, in order to have students dismissed early every day, Hawk Time and Advisory could not be offered. This meant that social-emotional learning (SEL) activities and music ensemble practice, along with other enrichment activities, would not be able to happen with this schedule.

Middle school staff designed the virtual Wednesday to provide time for these important activities. There is an hour each Wednesday for advisory, with the focus on SEL activities. There is also scheduled time for music ensembles and then two periods of office hours for one-on-one targeted remediation and enrichment for students. Students are also provided instruction, asynchronously, so that even on these virtual days, they can move forward and progress with their learning.

Some of the enrichment activities occurring during virtual Wednesdays are the Longwood Gardens - Unearth It - The Great Debate project, a book club facilitated by the MS librarian and Reading Olympics.

Feedback from middle school staff is that these Wednesdays are working well. They are meeting with students in a one-on-one format, providing effective SEL activities, and music practice is occurring. Special education teachers report that the virtual Wednesdays provide much needed remediation and catch-up time for our special education students.


4) Does the District have any Summer School plans to help students get caught up?

Yes, we have a plan. We have put funds in the 2021-2022 budget to provide a Reading and Math camp for students. This will be, of course, an optional program. We will look to hire our teachers to work with our students to help them progress in Reading and Math.

Possible targets would be a Reading camp for rising second - fourth graders and a Math camp for rising fifth - seventh graders. Criteria, numbers of students we can invite, dates, etc., are all things we are working on. We would hope for a two week experience, four days a week, much like ESY, with 1/2 days. The two weeks after ESY, August 9th and 16th may be a possibility.  Also, we would hope to make it fun. Yes, academics is the focus, but we would want the students to get outside and do some activities/games to engage with each other. So we will most likely be looking to hire a PE teacher as part of the team.

If we receive grant funds, we may be able to expand our reach to include more students and run the programs longer. Possibly grant funds could pay for the entire program.


5) When will vaccines be made available for teachers and staff?  

We continue to strongly advocate for our staff to receive the vaccine for COVID-19. We hope for more movement on this in the coming weeks. We are pleased that some of our staff that qualify in the 1A category are getting vaccinated. 

Getting the vaccine is not mandatory, however 94% of our staff have indicated that they are interested in receiving the vaccine. The CDC stated that the vaccine, while another helpful mitigation strategy, should not be a factor in lessening social distance once the transmission levels allow for the change in guidance.


6) Will families need to declare what form of learning their child will participate in (remote/in-person)?

We continue to survey families whether their child will be participating virtually or attending in-person instruction when invited. Our latest survey was just sent to high school parents this past week. We encourage all students to participate in person when they can. We will however allow students to attend remotely if they choose to do so. This was a commitment we made to our families this school year, and we would not feel right changing this capability mid-year. We are, however, announcing that we will not continue a hybrid model for remoting in next school year.


7) Are teachers holding us up from going to more in-person instruction?

No. Our teachers and support staff have been fantastic. They have done everything the District has asked. They have been supportive of following CCHD guidelines. That is not to say that there aren’t teachers and staff members who are nervous. There have been no demands or ultimatums, only a collaborative working relationship to meet the needs of our students. 


8) How will the District ensure social distancing on the bus with the increase of more students? 

Students will be seated one to a seat, to the degree possible, and siblings will be seated together. Based on the number of students currently taking the bus to school, we can increase the number of students on the bus and still meet our health and safety plan requirements. Additionally, mitigation measures and cleaning protocols, including the use of nanoseptic coverings on handrails and electrostatics disinfecting sprayers between runs will continue as well as opening windows to increase ventilation when the weather permits. It has been helpful that many parents are driving their children to and from school and that has helped us maintain 6 feet of social distancing on the bus. 


9) Why can sports compete at less than 3 feet, but we cannot have students in school less than 3 feet? 

The PIAA issued their own guidance designed to allow athletes to participate/compete in athletics while following strict health and safety protocols.  This guidance was independent to recommendations and mandates issued by the Chester County Health Department and was supported by the PA Department of Health. Student-athletes must wear masks while practicing and competing and there is no congregating in locker rooms before and after practice/competitions.  Additionally, on January 4, 2021, Governor Wolf announced that sports could resume under set mitigation measures - all of which we follow. 


10) Will virtual options be provided for high-risk staff members if we return all students? What would that look like? 

We follow all federal, state and local labor laws/mandates. These include Family Medical Leaves, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family First Coronavirus Response Act and Pennsylvania School Code. We also allow leaves without pay based on district policy. This year, because of the pandemic, we allowed any staff member to take a leave without pay for the year, with the guarantee they can return to their job next school year. Many high-risk staff members have utilized the leaves and/or accommodations above. Our HR department has worked closely with these individuals to ensure they understand what choices they may have during this pandemic. Many of the above options continue to be in place for high-risk staff members. Staff members are encouraged to reach out to HR if you have questions regarding your options. 


11) How long will teachers have to prepare for the new schedule/model? 

We hope to provide at least two weeks for buildings to prepare for a significant change in the structure of the in-person learning model. Pre-first, first and second-grade teachers learned of a possible change on Tuesday, February 16th - giving them about two weeks to prepare. Within that time there are two ½ day planning Wednesdays. This will provide teachers additional time to prepare. At the MS and HS, though we are planning to bring more students back, the schedule is not changing. Staff may need to adjust/arrange their classrooms differently, and they have end-of-the-day planning time as well as other times throughout the day to make some quick adjustments. 

In addition, with the new CCHD guidance, we will have at least three weeks to plan for any revisions in our health and safety plan. 


12) Looking at the metrics, is the District considering how the variant strands may impact transmission rates?

Yes. The current projection models include the possible effects of the COVID-19 variants. So even with the variants, our numbers are projected to continue to steadily decrease. The information we have received is that following appropriate mitigation measures, we can keep each other safe from the variant strains just as we have been keeping our schools safe this school year. We are in regular discussions with Dr. Sulieman to understand the potential impact of the variant strains.


13) What are Learning Centers and how will they work?

In order to maintain 6 feet of social distance in classes, some students may need to participate for part of the day from a learning center in a different location in the school. Students assigned to a learning center would spend no more than half an academic day in that space at a time at the elementary level and only during the class periods that are at capacity at the secondary level on a rotating basis.  Days and times when students are assigned to the learning center will be communicated by the individual school building to parents and students.  While in the learning center, students may Zoom into their classes, complete independent assignments, and receive support from UCFSD staff present in the room. Every effort will be made to utilize space and open seats in the classes to minimize the number of students having to access the learning center at a given time. 

Learning centers will only be needed until we can meet the new CCHD guidelines for less than 6 feet of social distancing.  


14) How are we determining what students are invited back for more in-person instruction?

At the elementary level, we are inviting all Pre-First through Second grade students back for full-day, in-person learning.  We are able to bring this group back into school and maintain the Chester County Health Department guidance of 6 feet of social distance as a result of relatively low-class sizes across the District and through the utilization of learning centers in each elementary school.

At the secondary level, we are inviting back the Senior class and additional students at the MS and HS for in-person learning whom UCFSD staff have identified as needing academic or social-emotional intervention first.  We will continue to look for more opportunities to invite larger groups of students back to school as we collect information on daily seats available and evaluate our options/next steps. If your child is struggling academically or emotionally, please reach out to your teachers and administrators so we can evaluate space available and provide interventions to help.


15) How are we supporting teachers during this stressful time?

One of our Guiding Principles is to support staff socially and emotionally. One of the things we’ve done is to actively engage our staff in our planning and preparation processes. This collaboration has been invaluable in developing a plan that meets the needs of our students and staff.  As teachers encounter challenges, they are encouraged to work together and with the administrative team to problem solve. Staff are provided with time each day for collaboration and planning. 

Other ways we have supported our teachers and staff are:

  • Teachers have been very involved in the development of hybrid schedules. We have teachers on the Task Force and we are in regular consultation with teacher leadership on scheduling plans and implementation. Changes such as the added ½ day of planning for elementary teachers and the no-lunch schedule at the MS and HS came about through collaboration between administration and teachers.

  • We have supported staff with opportunities to take leaves from work, to work remotely in certain instances and to work while caring for their children at home.

  • Our Human Resources department provides employee assistance for a variety of issues including the opportunity to receive free, confidential counseling on an as-needed basis.

  • We continue to strongly advocate for our staff to receive the vaccine for COVID-19. We hope for more movement on this in the coming weeks. We are pleased that some of our staff that qualify in the 1A category are getting vaccinated. 

  • Our Health and Safety plan has been very effective in protecting our staff and students. We are aware of only one possible linked transmission on campus, which occurred in winter indoor athletics. Masking, hand washing, daily screening and social distancing is working.

  • We have allowed staff to work from home, if possible, while under a COVID-19 quarantine.


16) What is the District’s rapid antigen testing program? 

The District is participating in Project: ACE-IT, a school-based COVID-19 rapid antigen testing program, which aims to reduce the risk of in-school COVID-19 transmission and bolster confidence that safe, in-person learning is possible when testing is performed regularly.  Assurance testing, overseen by the District’s school nurses, began with the wrestling team in mid-February and will expand to all Personal Care Assistants and staff working in low-incidence special education classrooms in late February.  Participating in this testing, which consists of a participant collected nasal swab that is read within 15-30 minutes, is completely voluntary.  To achieve the best results with the BinaxNOW Test, samples should be conducted from participants each week. There are plans for the expansion of assurance and diagnostic testing as circumstances permit.


17) How will breakfast/lunch be handled at the Elementary level for grades Pre-First - Second grade?

All students will wash their hands before eating their breakfast or lunch.  Students will sit at assigned seats 6 feet apart from one another during breakfast and lunch.  Any students who sit facing one another, will be divided by clear plastic partitions. Students receiving a meal from the UCFSD Food Service Department will have their meal provided to them at the start of the breakfast or lunch period. Once seated, students can remove their masks and begin eating. Students must put on their masks once they finish eating and when moving about the cafeteria or space to dispose of trash or use the bathroom.  Following each breakfast and lunch period, all tables will be cleaned by staff prior to the next group using the space.  Additional specific instructions and information about breakfast and lunch will be provided by your building principals prior to starting the new instructional model.


18) How will recess be handled at the Elementary level for grades Pre-First - Second grade?

We foresee our elementary recess period as an opportunity for students to burn off some energy and have some fun! And we will supervise them as we always do to make sure they participate safely. They will follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks while outside for daily recess. In the event of inclement weather, recess will be held in the homeroom classrooms and other large common areas in the school. Additional elementary building-specific instructions and information regarding recess will be provided by your building principals prior to starting the new instructional model.


19) What is the plan for the upper elementary grades (3rd-5th)?

Due to social distancing requirements of 6 feet and the relative class sizes of our third through fifth grade classes, we can not accommodate the number of students that would require a learning center in our elementary schools and maintain six feet of social distancing in those learning centers.  This assessment was based on the current number of students who are coming to school each day for in-person instruction.

On February 19, the Chester County Health Department released new guidance allowing school districts to reduce the physical distancing requirement to less than 6 feet for students. Following this guidance, the earliest we would be able to bring back third through fifth grade would be March 15, 2021.


20) What is the plan for the next school year?

The current plan for the start of the 2021-2022 school year is to offer daily, in-person instruction for UCFSD students.  While we all appreciated and needed the flexibility of remoting into classrooms this year, we know that the hybrid model is difficult for teachers to manage and is not an optimal instructional model for most students or staff.


21) Have there been any academic ramifications from COVID-19?

In December 2020, the school district administration presented the achievement report for the 2019-2020 school year. In this report, we also shared an update on student achievement and student social-emotional well-being for the current school year. We are providing updated 2020-2021 school year information based on winter benchmark scores and other important measures of academics and student social-emotional status at the School Board meeting on February 22, 2021 (see report linked here). This report consists of both quantitative and qualitative information and is organized by academics and social-emotional information. Our school teams and district administration will continue to monitor student achievement and well-being and make adjustments as needed as we move through the school year.


22) What is the District doing to support students who are struggling socially and emotionally?

The District has a phenomenal K-12 behavioral health team made up of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers. This team continues to support all students in a variety of ways, including providing support to individual students with more pronounced needs.  We recognize the challenges the pandemic has placed before students and remain committed to helping each student achieve success.  

Having students attend in person is a primary way we are able to provide support.  All special education students are attending in person with plans to bring back our youngest and oldest learners, along with students who are struggling.  

The middle school is piloting the DESSA, a standardized, strength-based behavior rating scale, to collect information on all students’ social-emotional competence.  This data is used to ensure targeted interventions are provided to students.  The DESSA is combined with EdSERT, a comprehensive set of resources that increase teachers’ SEL knowledge and practices, enhances their ability to model social-emotional skills, and allows them to develop practices to better manage stress and balance the demands of teaching with student needs.

The Wellness and SEL committees are using the 2019 PAYS data to develop action plans addressing mental health and wellness along with behaviors that put students at risk, such as drug and alcohol usage.

Our winter athletics programs were designed to support students socially and emotionally. This year the MS did not cut any athletes from their winter sports teams. Additionally, a winter track and field program was added at Patton that has over 80 active participants.

The secondary schedules include dedicated time focusing on SEL skill development.  At Patton, each Wednesday there is a one-hour advisory period in which students practice social-emotional skills.  At UHS, the 70-minute Longhorn time scheduled every other day gives teachers an opportunity to meet one-on-one with students to develop deeper connections and also provide social-emotional and academic support.

Additionally, the District features several pages with information to access help.  On the Find Support page, there are hotlines, resources, and links for individuals who may be experiencing a crisis or who are looking for helpful resources addressing social-emotional health and wellness.  There is also a Find Help Now button on the Social Workers’ webpage that links directly to Chester County Health Department support strategies and resources. This page contains ways to support yourself and others during the pandemic.


23) Is the District still requiring COVID-19 testing and travel quarantines for staff and students who travel out of state?

The District is following the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s order for travelers last amended December 17, 2020.  This includes having a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the Commonwealth or upon entering Pennsylvania or completing a 10-day quarantine after traveling outside of Pennsylvania if an individual over the age of 11 does not have proof of a negative test result.  Staff and students are not required to provide their proof of a negative test to the District, but rather inform the school nurses of the negative test or of their decision to quarantine for 10-days upon returning to Pennsylvania.  Currently, there are no exemptions to the order regarding individuals who have been immunized, but if/when this changes the District will continue to follow the most current PA DOH order.