Hollidaysburg schools respond to concerns on returning to full in-person learning

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HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — A narrow vote by the Hollidaysburg school board means that students will be returning for full in-person learning on Jan. 19, 2021.

Since that action, those who oppose the plans have started a petition. It states that the state health department recommends counties like Blair that have “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission adopt fully remote teaching.

Superintendent Robert Gildea sent a letter to parents addressing the concerns, saying the administration and staff have been working diligently to ensure the safest learning environment possible.

As for parents’ inquiries about an option that will allow their children to continue in a virtual setting, the district is only offering two options: full face-to-face learning or the Hollidaysburg Cyber Academy.

Gildea said the question “Why can’t teachers just continue to livestream?” was posed, stating the district’s bandwidth limitations would prevent livestreaming on a larger scale.

You can read his full statement below:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Thank you to those of you who have expressed your concern with the decision to return to a full face-to-face instructional platform effective Tuesday, January 19th.  This decision has caused concern with many of you.  Please know that the administration, board, and staff have been working diligently to ensure the safest learning environment possible for when your children return next Tuesday.

Many parents have inquired about an option that would allow their children to continue in the current virtual setting.  Please know that we began discussing this option yesterday morning with our administrative team, and those discussions continued through the day today.  At the current time, the two educational options we are prepared to offer to parents are full face-to-face or the Hollidaysburg Area Cyber Academy.  Having a third, virtual option that aligns with our current platform has proven to be a task that could not be effectively accomplished on such short notice for Tuesday’s instruction  We will continue to work on the possibility of a virtual option through the following week.

The question was posed, “Why can’t teachers just continue to livestream?  If it worked during virtual, why can’t it work now?”  Unfortunately, our bandwidth limitations would prevent large scale live streaming.  Live streaming requires a considerable amount of bandwidth.   During virtual, teachers were given the option of live streaming their instruction from home or the school.  In addition, there was also a very low number of students in the building to pull bandwidth, thus leading to a smaller percentage of devices utilizing our network.  With the return to full in-person learning, over 1,500 students and 250 teachers will be using the network simultaneously.  Large scale live streaming will not be possible.  As noted above, we are exploring alternatives.      

As I indicated in my letter yesterday, we will continue to follow the mandates and recommendations from the PA Department of Health and Education (PADoH)  regarding school closures.  We will continue to enforce masking and will ensure social distancing to the maximum extent feasible.  I have been in communication with PADoH today and reviewed our plan.  Additional conversations will occur next week with the Department of Education.  

In the past 36 hours, I have had many conversations with parents, teachers, principals, support staff, as well as board members both for and against the decision.  If I have not gotten to your email or phone message, I apologize for the delay and intend to do so over the next few days.  One common theme has run through all discussions and that is that EVERYONE cares and wants what is best for our children.  Regardless of our role, we are here because of our love for kids.  We will continue to work together to ensure a productive and safe learning environment for our kids.

ROBERT J. GILDEA, SUPERINTENDENT

Todd Russell, President of the Hollidaysburg teachers’ union, says while his members wouldn’t mind going back to a hybrid model, they don’t believe it’s possible to safely hold in-person classes.

“All of a sudden we’re going face to face 5 days a week. I now have 30 desks back in my room, while I can only fit 10 kids. So I’m going to have 20 to 25 kids in a room, now you’re going to have 300 kids at a time in the cafeteria that are going to be setting a foot and a half apart– social distancing now in Hollidaysburg is a foot and a half,” Russel said.

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