Pandemic rocks Norwin learning

COVID-19 forces schools to pivot on learning modes



Norwin district students returned to school in hybrid model, but School Board votes to return to 5-Day Instruction.

Ashley Cramer, Editor

Norwin HS–Nov. 2, 2020:  Even though it may be the same pandemic that began in March, COVID-19 is still bringing challenges that the Norwin School District still must address.

    On Oct. 7 Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Taylor announced that the High School, Middle School, Hillcrest Intermediate, Hahntown Elementary, and Sunset Valley Elementary would be shut down for the following week because of the number of COVID-19 cases reported in each of the schools. 

     This announcement shocked many Norwin families because the Oct. 7 message from Dr. Taylor was supposed to announce the district’s plan to return to full time in-person schooling. The reasoning for shutting down these schools was that there was “a total of 7 cases across the District over the past 14 days, which exceeds the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s recommended number of cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period,” Dr. Taylor explained in his email on Oct. 7. 

     Since the the fall year began,  approximately 25 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 within the Norwin School District.

     Two days after the shutdown announcement was made, Dr. Taylor sent out another email announcing the district’s plan to return to full time in-person schooling. The original plan was to return to full time in-person instruction on Nov. 4 but now has been postponed until Nov. 18.

     “I acknowledge that it is an ironic time to announce returning to five days of instruction while many of our schools are currently closed due to COVID-19,” Dr. Taylor said in his message on Oct. 9. “However, we are continuing to move forward with our transition plan because we know that a traditional operational model is the most effective model for instructing students.”

     On Oct. 19 the school board voted in favor of still returning to a 5-day instruction model on Nov. 4. The vote ended up having 5 in favor and 3 not in favor of returning on Nov. 4.

     Six days after officially announcing the original date for student’s full time return, another email was sent out to district families laying out a more in depth plan on how the district plans on protecting the students who do plan to return to school. Some of the actions that will be taken to maintain social distancing in classrooms are that some furniture will be removed so students will be able to socially distance while in class. For lunch, students may be spread throughout not only the cafeteria but in the gymnasium and auditorium.

     “We have a phenomenal high school with several additional spaces we can use close to or adjoining with the cafeteria,” said Dr. Choby when asked how students would be socially distanced at lunch when all students do return to school. “We are exploring the use of the auxiliary gym and auditorium as well as adding additional tables and chairs near the cafeteria in order to maintain a socially distanced lunch for all students.”

      The announcement to return to five days sparked praise from many parents and students, but it also has been a major source of criticism from other members of the district. Many students voiced their concerns about their safety when they do return to school.

     “I feel like the district is rushing to go back. Cases are still rising in our area and if we return to five days, our schools will only become even more of a breeding ground for COVID-19,” said Kat Garvin, a junior at Norwin High School. “As it is now, some students are still not socially distancing or wearing their masks appropriately. And as a student, I have seen no one except one teacher ask students to wear their masks correctly. We already managed to get shut down with the restrictions in place so what do they think is going to happen when they bring us all back at the same time?”

     Many students have felt that their concerns are being ignored by the administration. To combat this the high school Student Council had created a Google Form Survey for students to fill out with their main concerns and how they think their return should be handled. 

     “The Norwin Student Council is attempting to identify the issues students are facing with not only the Hybrid Model but the fully remote time model along with the possible return to full time model,” said Nick Markovina, the President of the Student Council. “We are hoping that the district will listen to our concerns and we will do everything within our scope to ensure it.” 

     The results from the student council survey showed that nearly 60% of students are concerned about their safety in a 5-day in person learning model. The survey also showed that almost 45% of students feel that the Hybrid Model is the best setting for school with the current state of the district while only 34% said that five days would be best. 

       “I need the social interaction because we have been gone so long,” said 11th grader Steven Conboy. “Plus I feel like I learn better when we are in person.”

     “I feel like they are only listening to all the Facebook moms who were out there protesting for in person schooling in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Bailey Benedict, a junior at Norwin high school. “And not the students and teachers who will be the ones first hand experiencing these changes every day they attend school.”

     The Pennsylvania Department of Education has recommended that all Westmoreland county schools convert to a full-time virtual learning model. This announcement has not been publicly acknowledged by the Norwin School District as of Oct. 26.

     On Oct. 26 The Norwin School District announced that one student and one staff member had contracted COVID-19. The Middle School was shut down on Oct. 27 so the District could complete contact tracing. 

      The past two months have been filled with feelings of frustration and disappointment for many district families. As things continue to change students will only be at the mercy of the pandemic.