A few weeks into the new academic year, the Harrisburg School District is looking to make changes to its current virtual learning format.
The district is in the process of reducing the amount of time that students spend receiving live online instruction, Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer announced at Monday night’s school board meeting.
“What we are learning is that, from the families’ perspective and from our students’ perspective, is that being online all day can be very draining,” Chief Academic Officer Susan Sneath said.
The district announced its plan for a 100% virtual start to the year in August. Students could choose between a path that aims to eventually transition back to in-person classes or a completely cyber option, the school’s new Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy (HVLA).
On Monday, Sneath proposed some changes to the current amount of time that students spend online.
She said that kindergarten through fourth-grade students will complete their live classes in the morning and finish the day by 2 p.m., rather than the current time of 3:30 p.m. For fifth to 12th graders, Sneath said they may change Wednesdays to independent work, maintaining the live lessons the rest of the four days of the week.
“Doing all-day online instruction for multiple consecutive days was becoming very challenging,” Sneath said of the fifth to 12th graders. “We believe it would be hard to sustain over time.”
Celmer said that the district is discussing these changes to the schedule with the Harrisburg Education Association and hopes to make the updates later in the week.
The district monitors the COVID-19 crisis closely and plans to move to a hybrid in-person and online instruction model only when the state meets certain benchmarks, Celmer said.
These include a three-week period of sustained testing positivity rates from 3 to 4% and incidence rates per 100,000 people below a rate of 50 in Dauphin County.
Celmer said the county is now at a 3.3% positivity rate.
“That’s the first time in months that we’ve seen something drastically below 5% in Dauphin County,” he said. “The clock starts now on that three-week period of reporting.
Another benchmark is that there is a decrease in community spread of the virus, which he said is down as well.
“We are really encouraged that we are seeing that data,” he said. “We will just have to see over the next couple weeks–is this sustained or was this just a dip?”
Also on Monday, many community members submitted comments about the school district’s decision to cancel fall sports despite the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (PIAA) allowance of sports.
“I’ve accepted the fact that football will probably be my son’s means to a free education after high school,” one district parent said. “Please let these boys get back to what they love and need.”
Last week, Celmer responded to concerned student-athletes and parents with a letter sympathizing with students, while upholding his decision.
“Covid-19 has caused tremendous upheaval in all of our lives, and as long as a student-athlete, coach, band-performer and/or cheerleader is wearing the Cougar uniform, I am responsible for the health and safety of each one of them,” he said in the letter. “As Superintendent, I do not take this responsibility lightly.”
Celmer said that the district is considering beginning outdoor voluntary non-contact workouts for athletes.
“We will see where the data and where the virus takes us over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
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