DV moves past mask debate

Online learning now available

By CHARLES PETERSHEIM
Posted 10/19/21

MILFORD, PA — Thirty days after making headlines around the state, the Delaware Valley School District (DVSD) has yet to see any consequences for defying state masking exemption policy. There …

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DV moves past mask debate

Online learning now available

Posted

MILFORD, PA — Thirty days after making headlines around the state, the Delaware Valley School District (DVSD) has yet to see any consequences for defying state masking exemption policy. There are no reports of widespread abuse of the parental-only medical exception, the state has not followed through on their threats of harsh penalties and there is little indication DVSD’s COVID-19 case count or community spread has risen due to the policy.

After a stream of parents voiced complaints about the lack of remote learning during COVID-19 related quarantine—effectively excluding those students from education opportunities while in quarantine—a temporary online learning program at DVSD has been instituted as of October 12. This measure—the Quarantine Academic Access Plan—rounds off DVSD’s month-long pivot and adaptation to changing state policies and COVID-19 caseloads and related impacts.

“Both the board and Dr. Bell initiated this option,” said board president Jack Fisher, of the new online opportunity for continued remote learning.  

When asked why the school had not offered online learning from the start, DVSD Superintendent Dr. John Bell said, “With low numbers of quarantined students, we felt we could handle it by providing daily check-ins by the teachers. However, as the cases increased dramatically, it made sense to pivot to this model.”

“Truly they do not want to see any child left behind,” Fisher said, referring to the administration’s effort to create the plan. “DV is so fortunate to have an admin team so dedicated to each individual child’s needs.”

Extrapolating DVSD data with statewide data, a projected 30 percent of non-vaccinated but vaccine-eligible students (students aged 12 to 18) have been in quarantine at some period during the first 30 days of school. With over 135 reported COVID-19 cases through October 15, DVSD is on track to exceed last year’s total case count by Christmas. There have been no rolling school closures due to the caseload.

The rapid collaboration between the administration and school board in regard to online learning highlights a recurring detail of their relationship since the beginning of the pandemic: open debate, respectful disagreement, and the rare ability to move toward consensus to solve complicated issues.

The board’s expanded mask exemption, and the subsequent lack of fallout, could have ramifications for the four seats up for grab in November’s school board election. There are two competing platforms. The Safety First slate has staked their election efforts on a cautious COVID-19 approach.  The Education First slate—mostly incumbents running for reelection—pegs its hopes on current board’s policies and its estimation of the community’s support for those policies.

Beyond the COVID-19 issues, the board candidates are debating issues of school curriculum, sexual harrassment, gender discrimination and the politicization of local school boards.

Board candidate Meg Rosenfeld, a write-in candidate after Elizabeth Mallard dropped out of the race, spoke for the Safety First slate, saying “This board is ignoring the advice of experts and not hearing the community.” She said the current board was establishing a community review committee to oversee the curriculum for the “first time ever.” She said the board was being influenced by “fringe theories and religious extremists,” referring to the new focus on the Church of the Iron Rod. She specifically pointed to current board member Dawn Bukaj, who is not up for reelection, characterizing her statements about masks, transgender and COVID-19 science as problematic. The current board isn’t “weak-kneed,” Rosenfeld said, “they actually believe this stuff,’ referring to both Bukaj’s statements and the church’s doctrine.

The Unification Church, led by the son of Sun Myung Moon and a breakaway church from his father’s, has emerged as part of the conversation in both Milford and school board politics, with accusations it is funding and driving an ultra-conservative, gun-centric policy agenda. There is no evidence of such support being offered by those making the accusations.

Speaking for the Education First candidates whom he supports, board president Jack Fisher said in an email, “The DVEA union leadership seems to have fallen for the false narratives... being spoon fed from … Washington DC and Harrisburg.” He continued, saying the upcoming DVSB election is “so critical” in order to keep “DV from falling prey to the ideology of the far left wing.”

Rosenfeld said, “We have a lot of support in the community. We are for science and education. The current board thinks they are doing a great job. We disagree and we think they are nervous about us.”

The board election will be on the November 2 general election ballot.

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