This article was written before the decision to halt in-person schooling for Harriton and Lower Merion high school students from December 14, 2020, and lasting until January 8, 2021.
On Monday, December 7, a Lower Merion School Board meeting was held to discuss urgent matters, including the debate regarding the switch from the virtual schedule back to hybrid. In light of COVID-19, the Board presented its reasoning behind opening schools again.
Many students, teachers, parents, and members of the community were unhappy with the decision to open schools on December 7, and the meeting provided an opportunity to voice their opinion. The School Board members read an abundant number of questions, most of them expressing concern for the safety of the students, teachers and the community at large, in response to Superintendent Copeland’s decision.
Just a few days before the meeting, Harriton High School seniors Sloan Petersohn and Cristina Sniffen started a petition to try and persuade the district to revert back to virtual. They were able to accumulate over 2,250 signatures and were hopeful that Superintendent Copeland would address the petition at the meeting; however, this was not the case.
Sniffen says, “I wish the School Board would’ve taken a bit more time to respond. It would’ve been nice to hear the Board members address specific plans regarding the safety of teachers and students in the hybrid model.”
Superintendent Copeland went on to explain that he felt it was necessary to bring the students back as soon as possible to support mental health and live instruction.
Contrary to his district-wide communication, a large majority of the students chose to stay home on Monday and the rest of the week. Although there was less than 50% attendance at Lower Merion and Harriton, Superintendent Copeland focused on the kids who did attend school, emphasizing the school district’s ability to meet the needs of half of their population.
This statistic was later proven to be likely inaccurate, as the system for taking attendance did not differentiate between those who were virtually present versus those who were present in-person.
Questions also arose about why elementary schools are not being given the same virtual options as the high schools. The elementary school students are required to go in-person Monday through Thursday. If they prefer to do virtual and participate in LMSD at Home, a commitment was required at the beginning of the school year.
If students choose to stay home, they are not able to join virtually like high school students can and they will be marked absent. This is very upsetting to many because if a parent wants to keep their child home for safety reasons, they will be missing important class time and will eventually use up their 14 absences. Many left the School Board meeting feeling conflicted and were curious about future decisions.