The Phoenixville Area School Board approved an all-virtual reopening plan during an online meeting Thursday night.
Along with the online return to school for the first marking period, which ends Oct. 31, the board suspended competitions in fall sports, excluding golf, singles tennis and marching band (if it adheres to 20-feet social distancing).
The vote was approved 8-1 with board members citing student safety as the top priority. The all-virtual model was selected over a hybrid model. A reevaluation process is to begin Oct. 1 with a determination for the second marking period to be made on Oct. 9.
The school district is allowing for limited in-person instruction for individuals or small groups of high-need students.
Superintendent Alan Fegley considered the administration’s recommendation a change of course from less than a month prior.
“I would bet my paycheck that you are receiving a different recommendation than you would have received three weeks ago,” Fegley said during Wednesday’s session. “As an administrative team, we have struggled with this question. We worked hard to make sure we’re ready and we had many, many meetings over the last two weeks to come to an agreement as to what we believe we need to be doing.”
The plan has students engaging in ‘synchronous virtual learning from home with real-time instruction and support from a PASD teacher’ and following a daily class schedule.
The board’s determination on athletics came following a rapidly-changing few days on the future of fall sports.
On Thursday, the Pioneer Athletic Conference announced a delay to the start of the season until Sept. 7, with interscholastic competitions allowed to begin Sept. 25. Hours later, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pa. Department of Health and Department of Education jointly recommend the suspension of scholastic and recreational athletics until Jan. 1.
The Phoenixville administrative team made determinations on the safety levels of each extra-curricular activity, in some cases differing from the PIAA’s guidelines.
While golf and singles tennis will be allowed to compete, the team deemed these sports as ‘not able to safely compete’: cross country, field hockey, football, soccer, doubles tennis, volleyball.
Cross country was deemed a low risk sport by the PIAA, but Phoenixville’s own evaluation from medical advisors on its pandemic team cited ‘slipstreams’ and the increased spread of air vapors while running.
Band was deemed able to continue with no travel and 20-feet social distancing requirements.
The administration specified the sports suspension was only related to interscholastic competition and not practices and team activities.
“We use the word ‘compete’ very purposefully because the extracurriculars are very important to the students,” Fegley said. “To that end, (Athletic Director Don Grinstead) has been working with the coaches and will be working with them to help make sure we are engaging the students. We are recommending that practices and skill building continue for the foreseeable future so we can keep them engaged in the game.
“If at some point it becomes safe to run those sports, we will absolutely come back and recommend that we do run those sports.”
Teams will continue to adhere to the previously approved Athletics Health and Safety Plan that allowed teams to conduct offseason training.