Re-Opening of Schools FAQ
At the August 3, 2020 School Board meeting, the board of directors voted to adopt the yellow phase (Virtual Learning Program) in the District's Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan to implement for the start of the 2020/2021 school year. (Information date: 08/04/2020)
1) What are the Learning Options for the 2020-2021 school year?
Virtual Learning Program will be implemented at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The Administration Team will constantly reassess the viability of in-person learning and/or hybrid setup throughout the year. The 2020/2021 Student/Teacher District Calendar still applies.
2) How different is this Virtual Learning Program from the virtual learning in March - June 2020?
After school closures, we have had our instructional coaches providing just-in-time workshops to support our teachers who suddenly have to teach virtually. Since then we have noted down what works and what doesn’t. This whole summer, our teaching staff have been participating in learning sessions. They were required to take at least 4 of the 24 professional development workshops offered by the Curriculum & Instruction and Special Education Departments. The Virtual Learning Program, in conjunction with the 1:1 Laptop/iPad program, will look very different from what students and parents had last spring.
3) What does the Virtual Learning Program look like?
Please click here for the virtual learning fact sheet. The UMASD Virtual Learning Program will be taught by UMASD teachers and will utilize UMASD Curriculum. There will be live teaching, anywhere from 2 to 4 hours per day, and the rest is asynchronous learning.
4) Has there been industry benchmarking with experts and other districts to ensure these teaching and technology methodologies are the most optimal?
The District is utilizing UMASD Curriculum to be taught by UMASD teachers - that’s not changing. Our teachers are constantly trained in best practices and strategies which gives them the skills to shift to virtual teaching. What’s different is the delivery platform. The campus might be closed but the school is open. Instead of in-person, it is going to be face to face on the computer screen.
5) What will the schedule look like under the Virtual Learning Program?
Information will be coming out on Aug. 14th regarding daily schedules for Elementary, Middle School and High School and on Aug. 21st, an update regarding what student materials will be provided in the kits.
6) If school is virtual, will there be sports and extracurricular activities?
UMASD is currently in discussion with the PAC league. PIAA has put together a proposal to delay the start of Fall Sports. At this time, no decisions have been made. As for student clubs, some clubs cannot be run virtually. The District has to carefully review the feasibility of running a club virtually. The District will continually look at its ability to provide a safe environment and will do what it can to make it work for our students.
7) In the Virtual Learning Program, what are the expectations for science labs and hands-on courses like Strings?
We have started conversation with a few of our Science teachers on how we can still have an interactive experience without having any materials. We admit to the challenge but that’s why we are going to be working over the next few weeks to come up with creative solutions.
There will be synchronous instructions from the instrumental teachers. Students will be able to record their performance and submit to the teacher for feedback. Singing will not be an activity in an in-person learning program but feasible in a virtual learning program. Students are still expected to progress in arts. The schedule will still be the same so the District expects to provide the same schedule (zero period, strings, bands, etc.) and aims to give students the same experiences.
8) Our child has a GIEP/IEP/504. Will he/she still get the appropriate education in a virtual learning program?
The District will still be providing the mandates of the GIEP/IEP/504 no matter what mode of education is implemented. Families will be contacted individually to iron out some of the challenges that coincide for some learners in a virtual realm. Where there are opportunities for staff to work more directly with special needs students, we will do so if we feel confident that we are able to maintain safety.
9) Will the District provide occupational therapy and physical therapy services?
Even with the school closure last spring, our service providers were able to pull together and provide services virtually. We were able to satisfy services that were expressed in the IEP. We will continue with virtual services in the fall. As we go forward, we are looking to increase that and if there are opportunities to actually provide direct services in a safe format we will plan for that. We would like our staff to learn this new environment first and as we build confidence with bringing students into the building where necessary and by working closely with our families, we will begin to do that but there'll be individual decisions in accordance with individual student needs.
10) How will UMASD address the equity issues that will be faced by some families in a virtual learning environment?
We urge our families to reach out to us. The District is committed in providing support to the parents/learning coaches. We are looking at a lot of time spent on parent consultations and providing direct technology help to parents. Regarding internet access, please reach out to the District so we can connect them with the appropriate resources that can help.
11) What mental or emotional supports are available in the Virtual Learning Program?
Counselors, psychologists and social workers are still available in a Virtual Learning Program. The Child Study Teams will continue to meet. We have contracted with the UPenn Consortium for Mental Health to provide training to 5 individuals and provide resources to the school district so that we may further help our students. We have meetings with our Positive Behavior Support (PBS) coaches to talk about virtual PBS and there are a lot of resources that came from the PBS network.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is not a new concept in our curriculum. Two years ago, we spent four professional development days with all of our elementary teachers. Starting each day with a morning meeting, although it's a virtual classroom, it is with other kids from your community who you might know through sports or from the pool or from the public library - kids who you've known in the neighborhood. We start each day with a greeting and then a share of what's going on in your life and have an activity that students can respond to each other and then have a morning message from the teacher to set the learning goals for the day.
Families are encouraged to reach out to their building principals, school counselor or social worker.
12) In the Virtual Learning Program, what is the time commitment of the parent/learning coaches?
The District is cognizant of the role a parent has to play as a learning coach in a virtual learning situation. We know it is going to be difficult in some households but a learning coach has to be designated. In the planning process, we are mindful of the challenge it poses. The update coming out on Aug. 14th includes guidelines on what the expectations are, recommendations and schedules. We will also be flexible. We understand that there might be connectivity issues, power outage, parent work conflicts, etc. and the child may miss a synchronous lesson. We are looking into recording synchronous lessons and the schedules coming out on Aug. 14th allows for flexibility.
13) Will there be technical support for parents/learning coaches?
The District is working on a solution in terms of getting a quick direct response from the Technology Department instead of relying on teachers for tech help. We are also looking into providing support to our English Learner parents who might have a language barrier in navigating the school apps.
14) Why would we stay with the UMASD Virtual Learning Program as opposed to enrolling in a Charter School?
In a UMASD class, your child will be interacting with their peers, other children from the same neighborhood. Your child will be taught by teachers from the school district, somebody they have already encountered in their school building. We have low teacher turnover rates. Many of our UMASD teachers have multiple certifications and advanced degrees. The school district has been a mainstay in the community. It has a stake in the community whether we are in COVID-19 situation or not. It is important to the District administration for the community to stay close knit and to know that we are supporting each other in terms of how we're feeling and what we're learning. We’d like to continue doing that as a small community of 25 students and a teacher at a time, with people who you trust and know. We have a fantastic faculty that will continue to facilitate students’ well being, as well as advance their learning. We really look forward to continuing with that mission of providing social and emotional support and rigorous academic instruction.
15) Many elementary families are considering micro pod learning. Are the building principals amenable to allowing those students to be in the same classes together at the same grade level?
Elementary grade levels will be learning the same thing across the District. All Grade One students, after the class’ morning meeting, will follow the same schedule. For example, if the order is English Language Arts (ELA) at 9:00 AM followed by Math, whether you have one teacher for all five kids who are in first grade or five teachers for five kids in first grade, they are all going to be learning the same thing coming from the same program, same materials. Please look for communications on Aug. 14th.
16) What is the plan for the Central Montco Tech students?
The Central Montco Technical High School will be having a Joint Operating Committee meeting on Wednesday, August 5th, at 6:30 PM. Please check their website.
17) Will the Kindergarten Screening be done virtually?
This has not been finalized but the Elementary Principals and the Assistant Superintendent is leaning towards conducting the Kindergarten screening virtually. However, what is more important is for a relationship to be established between teachers and the incoming Kindergarteners. Teachers will still be assessing the students when classes start.
18) Will there be virtual orientation for incoming High School Freshman?
There will be a virtual orientation. We will have our Viking Links program for our new students. We have our school counselors or program leaders getting trained in the virtual model of the Viking Links that was recently purchased.
19) Are the teachers teaching from home or from their classrooms?
Teachers will be given the option of coming in to teach in their classroom. However, the District has to send out a survey to gauge interest. We have to be mindful of the District’s bandwidth capacity if there is a high number of teachers doing live online instruction while in their classroom.
20) Can we enroll in the MCIU’s Montgomery Virtual Program (MVP)?
MVP is not an option in the UMASD Virtual Learning Program. If we come back to in-person learning, the option to stay with virtual learning will be available. In cases where we do not have a (High School) teacher with a specific certification and skill level to teach a specific virtual course, the District may enter into an agreement with the MCIU to utilize MVP.
21) Why wasn’t a hybrid plan recommended?
The District did consider a hybrid plan: K to 4 students will be in school while grades 5 to 12 will be in school two days a week. However, it is still not going to be safe. There are too many variables that cannot be controlled: self-monitoring, temperature checks before leaving home, student behavior and developmental ability to follow guidelines, etc. It is difficult to guarantee safety when dealing with an adversary that cannot be seen and has a death rate multiplier of .002 which to our school district translates to 7 to 9 people dying. While Montgomery County might be faring well right now, the PA quarantine list fluctuates.
22) What is a semester?
For Middle School & High School, a semester is equal to two (2) marking periods. For Elementary students, mid-point of the year is January 25, 2021
23) Will there be an SAT in the Fall?
We are not administering the SAT August dates. Our first SAT would be in September. We are taking directions from the College Board in regard to those dates that are currently still on their website.
24) Will there be transportation to non-public schools?
The District is currently researching the issue with transportation.