Dear Abington School District Families:
I understand that the past 5+ months have been a challenging time for our entire Abington School District community. As a parent of two school-aged children, I also understand the worry that comes with the uncertainty of the 2020-2021 school year.
When we began our Fall 2020 planning process in May, our intention was to use July to finalize our plan, so that it could be presented to the Board of School Directors at their first meeting in August. Our goal has been from the start to present a plan that is timely, thorough and reflects the educational needs of our students while balancing the health, safety and wellbeing of our entire school community.
Since the beginning of that planning process, Abington School District administration has been working diligently to gather input from the span of our school community—including through the Superintendent’s Committee representing many stakeholders from each school, and through various parent/guardian and teacher/staff surveys. The Abington School District administrative team knew that planning for the start of school would be a difficult undertaking, for which no playbook has ever been written, and I want to start by thanking them and our committee members for devoting their time this summer to aid in this process.
In preparation for our August 11th meeting of the Board of School Directors, at which the Board will vote on a Health, Safety and Instructional Plan for Fall 2020, I write to share an overview of the model that we will present next week: a fully virtual instructional delivery model with a re-evaluation to return to school after Thanksgiving.
As you may recall from previous communications, we had initially been working toward an additional option in the form of a hybrid model, once it was evident that a full in-person instructional model was not physically feasible due to current COVID-19 restrictions. After bringing this hybrid proposal to our Superintendent’s Committee, consulting with other neighboring school districts, and hearing added feedback from parents and guardians—as well as teachers who would be on the front lines of COVID-19 exposure—we felt it was in the best interest of the entire school community to proceed with a virtual instructional model, which poses the least risk while teaching students in the most effective manner possible.
While we very much wanted to be back with our students in person come September, we believe it is our responsibility as a school district to do our part in mitigating the spread of this virus. It is also the responsibility of administration to ensure the safety of students and staff on a daily basis. Not only does the virus pose a risk to these community members and our students, but also without having adequate staffing levels—either due to requests for leaves of absence, illnesses, or quarantines—we would not be able to safely operate our buildings.
The COVID-19 situation in Montgomery County, including the virus’ spread and the resulting restrictions, continues to remain fluid, and as a result, we believe that focusing teaching and learning efforts on a unified, cohesive and thorough virtual education program will yield the best outcomes for all of our students. In a hybrid setting, a school closure or learning disruption would be inevitable, and we know that stability and consistency are especially beneficial for student learning. With COVID-19 cases only increasing in our area throughout the past month, it became abundantly clear that a hybrid model could see intermittent school closures on a weekly basis in Abington schools, which would not only do a disservice to student learning, but would also continue to put our community members’ health in jeopardy.
Please know that Abington School District’s proposed virtual instructional model will look entirely different than remote learning did in the spring of 2020, based on the feedback provided from both parent/guardian surveys and discussions among the Superintendent’s Committee. Here are some of the highlights of what we are recommending to the Board of School Directors next week:
Abington School District’s virtual program will include predominantly synchronous learning, with lessons taught by Abington School District teachers from a student’s assigned school. This will also mean students will learn alongside peers from their own school.
Virtual instruction will be in place in all Abington School District schools through Thanksgiving. It is our hope that we can return to our school buildings in at least some capacity come November 30th; however, we will re-evaluate the health situation and our program as we near that timeframe.
The elementary instructional schedule will run similarly to a traditional school day, where students will sign in each day at 8:50 a.m., when attendance will be taken. Learning will be a blend of synchronous and asynchronous opportunities, with time built in the schedule for students to be away from screens and engaged in hands-on learning. Grading practices will follow traditional Abington School District grading procedures, with students receiving report cards three times per year.
Secondary classes will run on a modified block schedule, which is different than a typical Abington Junior/Senior High School schedule. Attendance will be taken during a warm-up activity in the first 10 minutes of each period. Like in a brick and mortar school setting, students will be expected to attend all periods of instruction, Monday through Friday, including a morning advisory and afternoon check-in period. Grading practices will follow traditional Abington School District grading procedures, with students receiving report cards four times per year.
Students In Need of Additional Supports
Abington School District is exploring options for scheduling individualized, in-person and/or virtual support for students with IEPs, students who are at academic risk, English Language Learners, etc. More information will be presented on August 11th in regard to how we plan to support these students’ learning needs. In addition, the Student Services Department will specifically reach out to parents/guardians of students in need of special education services.
Chromebooks for Students
As part of our advancement of timelines for the Abington School District Digital Transformation Plan—a 1:1 technology program—Chromebooks have been ordered for all students in grades 4-12. Chromebooks will also be made available for students in lower grades who are in need of a device. Having students working off the same devices will aid in developing a uniform curriculum across grade levels, and will help our teachers in knowing to which software and technologies their students have access. More information about the rollout of this Digital Transformation Plan will be made available in the coming weeks.
Although instruction will be delivered virtually, Abington School District will offer “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meals for eligible families. We will communicate distribution information as we get closer to the start of school.
We understand that one of the largest obstacles posed by having fully virtual instruction is the lack of access to affordable child care for many of our District families. It is our intention to ensure that a practical solution is available as to where these students can go during the school day. We are working with our partners at the YMCA—who typically operate our before- and after-school care programs—to develop a full, five day/week program for families who need to choose this option. Additionally, we are working with the Abington Educational Foundation (AEF) to assist some of our families in need. Further, Abington School District administration will work with our Parent Council to provide support for any PTO/PTAs looking to organize small-group networks of students outside of the school setting. More information will be shared about these partnerships on August 11th.
Please note that more details and specifics will be presented as part of the Board orientation on August 11th, and that the above highlights capture only the framework of our proposed virtual model, not the entirety of our plan. We understand you may have a lot of questions, but I remind you that even the above information could still change over the coming days, and that none of these plans are final until they have been approved by the Board.
I look forward to sharing more about our Health, Safety and Instructional Plan for Fall 2020 next week. Until then, if you have any questions, please email Fall2020@abington.k12.pa.us.
I hope you and your family remain healthy and well.
Jeffrey S. Fecher, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools