Palmyra Area School District is considering instituting a series of 19 half-days for students to give teachers more time for planning and preparation.

Protocols within the district’s Health and Safety Plan have “required significant changes” to the role and responsibilities of the teaching staff, district superintendent Bernie Kepler said in an email to parents on Sept. 25.

“Students report directly to the classrooms in the morning versus congregating in various areas. Elementary teachers lost their common planning time that is linked to lunch as students cannot go to recess in large groups. Teachers have also lost time at the end of the day as student dismissal times or procedures have been altered,” Kepler explained.

That’s cost teachers districtwide 60 to 70 minutes of planning time each day, he said. “Compiled over the course of a week, our teachers have lost 300 to 350 minutes respectively. This time is typically utilized for planning, collaborating and work production. While at the same time, our staff is being asked to do more, with less. This lost time has a direct impact on student engagement, effective lesson planning and classroom culture.”

Administrators have proposed the half-day model to restore that much-needed time to teachers, Kepler said.

He acknowledged that having students home early on those days could be an inconvenience for some parents.

“As a school district we began the year with elementary students attending five full days either in-person or synchronously and at the secondary level within our A/B hybrid model,” he said in the email. “While many districts in our area began with options ranging from a full asynchronous day with all students home on a Wednesday to an option of half days for elementary students five days/week, we have tried to avoid having a model that places daycare related issues on families.”

The district is also considering having half-days on Fridays, rather than Wednesdays, he said. The proposal was presented to school board members on Sept. 24.

The district is asking for parent feedback on the proposal.

Since the email was sent out, Kepler said in a follow-up email to LebTown, “we have had a few parents reply with concerns to less in-person instruction or with concerns regarding childcare.”

However, he said, teachers are being asked to teach “both in-person and synchronous students” with 350 fewer minutes per week to plan, prepare and collaborate.

The school board could take action on the proposal as soon as Oct. 8, he said. If approved, the new schedule could go into effect on Oct. 21.

As proposed, secondary students would be dismissed at 10:30 a.m. on selected dates; elementary students would be dismissed at 11:40 a.m.

“Teachers would provide asynchronous work for the students to complete during the afternoon as these days are considered full days under the school district’s Health and Safety Plan,” Kepler said.

If the board approves the Wednesday option, half-days would be scheduled on Oct. 21 and 28, Nov. 4, 11 and 18, Dec. 2, 9 and 16, Jan. 6 and 13, Feb. 3 and 24, March 3 and 24, April 14 and 28, and May 5, 12 and 19. If the district goes with Fridays instead, the dates would be Oct. 23 and 30, Nov. 6, 13 and 20, Dec. 4, 11 and 18, Jan. 8 and 15, Feb. 5 and 26, March 5 and 26, April 16 and 30, and May 7, 12 and 21.

“Our team at Palmyra Area School District would like to thank each family for a wonderful start to a far from normal school-year,” Kepler said in the email. “Although there are growing pains in an entirely new instructional model, we believe things have gone very well. Our teaching staff and support staff, along with the administration, have worked diligently to provide the best educational opportunities for our students.”

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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