Governor Wolf extends closure through academic year, EPSD adapts to virtual education (Updated)


Kristen Heilenman, Former Editor in Chief

Update, as of April 10:

On April 9, the PIAA canceled all remaining Winter and Spring sports and championships. This decision arose from Governor Wolf’s announcement early Thursday morning that schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. 

“Today’s decision by the PIAA Board of Directors was difficult for everyone,” PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert A Lombardi said in his announcement. “However, the Board’s position reflects a steadfast priority of keeping our student-athletes, officials, and member schools’ staffs and their communities safe, while following the guidelines provided by the Governor, the Department of Health and the Department of Education.”

Check back for reactions from EHS’s student-athletes on this decision.

The East Penn School District has turned to alternative teaching methods after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvania schools to close for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. 

“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said in his press release on April 9. “This was not an easy decision but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employees and families.”

April 6 marked the start of what the district is calling “Phase Two” of its at-home learning plan. “Phase One” consisted of teachers providing optional and ungraded assignments for their students, while “Phase Two” includes more structural learning. Assignments will remain ungraded; however, teachers will document participation and completion of work. EPSD’s decision to not grade assignments stems from the concern that online conditions could impact one’s learning.

“We want to provide learning and meaningful feedback for students without creating additional challenges and barriers,” the district wrote in a March 24 newsletter. 

These changes are being implemented district-wide. At Emmaus High School, students can meet with teachers during designated office hours and will be given work on Mondays which will be due that Friday. These assignments will be posted via Google Classroom. By giving students the week to finish assignments, it allows them to work at their own pace that is most convenient for their situation. Students taking a dual enrollment class through Lehigh Carbon Community College will still be eligible to receive credit.

With school closure for the remainder of the year, EHS principal Dr. Kate Kieres and other administration members are working on a plan for the future, which will go to EPSD Superintendent Kristen Campbell and the members of the school board to approve.

“We’ve been planning all along with an understanding that it was a possibility that school wouldn’t reopen,” Kieres said. “I think we were all hopeful that it would, but recognized that having a temporary plan that would only be effective for a week or two at a time wasn’t going to benefit our students the most. Although we’re disappointed, I think that we’ve been planning for this possibility all along.”

Next week, EPSD’s fourth marking period plans will be released, along with the new district calendar.

Due to students missing three weeks of instruction, the end of the third marking period has been extended until at least April 17 to ensure students are given ample time to complete work. 

“[The] third marking period is still open, and is open until April 17th,” Kieres said. “Students should be able to communicate with their teachers about assignments that they missed. There are no new assignments being assigned since the closure on the 13th.”

Continuously, course content has been modified and students at EHS will not be given final exams for the 2019-20 school year. Administration is undecided on how final grades will be calculated.

“Our teachers spent the time last week working together so that each course has essential course objectives to address between now and the year,” Kieres said. “They were really thoughtful about that, recognizing that it was going to be impossible for students to be able to engage with the amount of material that you would have been able to engage with if you had been in school full time with your teachers.”

Usually, students across the state participate in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing and Keystone exams in May; however, the Pennsylvania Department of Education cancelled these tests for the current school year, hoping to create more time for educational opportunities. 

Administration has remained undecided on the status of social events: Junior and Senior Prom, graduation. If needed, the district has set alternative dates for Senior Prom and graduation of June 20th and July 26th, respectively. 

For all athletes, the PIAA has not made a decision on the status of spring sports. When contacted, the athletic department did not have any definitive answers.

“The direction for us will come from the PIAA and at this point they are waiting for further guidance from the Pennsylvania State Governor’s office,” EPSD Athletic Director Rebecca George said. “There are multiple scenarios that could play out. We are fully prepared to act once the direction is given. …We are in a holding pattern at the moment and will move quickly once the picture becomes clearer.”

Many coaches have been in contact with the Lehigh Valley Health Network Performance Enhancement team to create at-home workout programs for athletes.

The district has many resources available for students and families during this time. They are working to provide internet access for all students, continuing to support one’s technology needs, and implementing a Grab-and-Go meal program. At no cost, students can pick up meals at Lincoln or Alburtis Elementary School, and Lower Macungie Middle School from noon to one on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

EPSD is providing a multitude of resources available to district families in the process of transitioning from traditional to online learning. 

“Something I really want our students to be aware of is that our teachers are providing a lot of flexibility to you in terms of your third marking period grades,” Kieres said. “We’ve asked teachers to be willing to accept late work from students, to excuse things that students were not able to reasonably complete in the third marking period. Right now, we’re also really focused on making sure that students’ grades for the third marking period put them in as good of a position as possible.”