WCASD School Board Votes: COVID Safety? Or Self-Preservation?

Over the past year I have heard a lot of reasons for kids to be in school. For kids to not be in school. For School Directors to vote against in person education. For School Directors to vote for in person education.

While there are many opinions, there is only one truth. And the truth lies in the numbers.

So what do our local numbers tell us? I’ve compiled a few data points for your consideration to help illustrate the point-in-time context of each WCASD Board vote with regard to in person education for the past nine months.

Left: COVID-19 Daily Case Counts / Right: WCASD Board Votes by Date

As you can see above, the local (county & state) counts were all well within what we consider “safe” limits back in August and September. So why did our Superintendent change course at the end of July and change his recommendation from a hybrid start (with a goal to be full in person later in the fall) to a full virtual model with no clear guidelines on when or how we would open even in hybrid?

Unfortunately the numbers do not answer that question but they do beg another question and that is why did our current School Directors vote by a 8 to 1 majority to support that recommendation when none of the local, county or state data deemed it necessary? There was the hotly debated topic of “6 feet required” versus “6 feet recommended” that most of our public school districts used to justify their decisions. Meanwhile private, catholic, and charter schools across Chester County operated 5 days a week in person with no significant impact on daily case counts. The data shows in-school transmission was low, if not absent, and yet our public schools stayed closed out of an abundance of “safety”.

Fast forwarding through the holiday “wave”, we come to January 2021 when myself and a coalition of parents from both West Chester and Downingtown worked together to publish academic performance data received from our districts via Right to Know requests. For WCASD we were able to benchmark the 2020-2021 academic year against the prior year, 2019-2020. The results were heart dropping.

What was profoundly clear from the data was that all of our students were struggling with remote learning. And to be clear – this is not a criticism of our wonderful teachers – who for the better part of the year were forced by the hybrid model to do twice the work for the same pay. It is a hard truth though, and one so profound it could not be ignored. So for better or worse we shouted it from the rooftops as an SOS on behalf of our community.

And it got the attention it needed. Because just a few weeks later, the Education Committee finally looked at the data in early February. And 14 days later the WCASD Board voted 7 FOR and 2 AGAINST a full return to 5 days in person. What changed? Some will say the CCHD finally relaxing their language on distancing was the trigger. But I would argue that even that adjustment was not in the name of safety and a move of self-preservation.

What did change is that the real and significant impacts of remote learning could no longer be ignored. The window of opportunity to try and recover this academic year was quickly closing and then what? Everyone goes to summer school?

After a year of hard work by students, teachers, and yes…the parents…we were/are all fatigued. To tell our kids that their reward for trusting us and this process was…more school? That is not acceptable to me, and if you feel the same way then please consider me as your candidate for WCASD School Director in Region 3.

Because when we are faced with these circumstances again – and we will – do you want School Directors who follow the politics? Or School Directors who follow the data? Do you want School Directors who will put their blind faith in the Superintendent that it will be “OK” because everyone is seeing academic loss this year? Or do you want School Directors who will question the status quo and push our Superintendent and Administrators to make access to in person education the number one priority?

I have no doubt that being a School Director in a normal year is a tough job. The hours. The politics. The need to compromise in the near term but still achieve big things in the long term. Like most things in life how it appears on the outside will likely be different than how it actually operates on the inside. But I am looking forward to the opportunity to learn and serve my community.

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