EAST STROUDSBURG — The East Stroudsburg school board voted Monday to have students attend school in person two days a week, skipping to the yellow phase of the administration’s plan after public opposition to the green phase.
In the green phase, all East Stroudsburg students not attending the district’s cyber academy would go to school in person every day.
After about an hour of largely negative feedback to the plan — mostly from parents, but also from a few employees and a student — the board decided to send fewer students to school at a time.
Students will be split into two groups, each learning online three days a week. One will attend in person on Monday and Tuesday and the other will go on Thursday and Friday, with deep cleaning taking place on Wednesday. (This is the same model Pleasant Valley School District plans to implement in green phase.)
All school districts must submit plans to the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding how they will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan is fluid, Superintendent William Riker said when he presented it earlier in the meeting, and also a balancing act.
"We cannot have students stay home without impacting child care challenges for families," Riker said. "We cannot have all students in school without impacting those with underlying medical conditions. And you cannot have online instruction without impacting those without internet services. And you cannot have online instruction without impacting learning for students, and instructional practices for staff and the learning support for identified population."
A few parents referenced child care concerns, or the idea of not living in fear, but most had questions about or criticisms of the plan.
"I’m quite upset about this plan," said Keith Karkut, a former board member who wanted to see "layouts of classrooms, flow in the hallways" and other elements that some Pennsylvania school districts have included in their plans.
He also criticized the plan for originating from a "very select committee" that did not include bus drivers, secretaries or cafeteria workers.
One self-described "lunch lady" and parent, Valerie Wickberg, said she was concerned about students "sitting in a classroom all day and not moving."
She also asked whether students will get more time for lunch, since serving lunch will take longer due to social distancing. Wickberg also doubted that students will sit apart.
"They’re not going to sit away from each other because it’s the only time they’re going to get to talk to each other," Wickberg said.
Some mentioned the large workload that increased cleaning creates for custodians.
"I hope that the budget allows for more custodians and more support staff," Alessandra DeJesus said.
Cleaning is important, but it’s not everything, Maria Hopkins added.
"Your thorough cleaning plan is admirable, and I applaud you for that, but COVID-19 is more easily spread person-to-person, and not surface-to-person," Hopkins said. "It seems like you put a lot of effort into the cleaning, and a lot less effort into the social distancing that’s required."
The district plans to allow up to two students per seat on the school bus, though board members Damary Bonilla and Rebecca Bear would prefer one student per seat, unless the students are siblings or at least friends whose parents trust that the other family is taking equal precautions.
Camille Patrick, who will be a junior at North this year, said she was "severely disappointed" with the plan and called it "ridiculous" to put two students in a seat.
"If you are not going to have students social distancing at all points of the day, do not open school. Just close it down if you cannot have precautions in place," Patrick said.
She added that she wants to go back to school and thrive — but not if it’s unsafe.
Jennifer Marmo, a parent and teacher at North, said she has "helped students as they mourn the loss of a classmate. I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want to have to try to help them deal with the loss of a teacher. I don’t want to mourn the loss of a colleague or a student.
"We can protect all of them," Marmo continued. "We can teach online. Give us the chance to show you how we can continue to impact the lives of our students, our children, my children. We have students changing the world. Let us continue to work with them safely so that we continue to cultivate those leaders."
Comments and questions about the plan can be submitted through the school district’s website. The administration is expected to return with more details at the next board meeting.
Board member Debbie Kulick noted that "a significant number of parents surveyed asked to have full-day, five-day-a-week attendance" but agreed there are improvements to be made and questions yet to be answered.
When parents were asked to rank the options of all-day, half-days, alternating days, East Stroudsburg Area Cyber Academy and other cyber options, a plurality of respondents did rank all-day instruction first.
But a large share also liked cyber options: About 27 percent of high school parents, and more parents of elementary and intermediate students, ranked ESACA or a cyber charter school No. 1.
"Everybody has options, and you have to make the right decision for yourself," board member Lisa VanWhy said.