Seneca Valley School District is offering three options for students to return to school.
Some parents feel the current choices are inadequate.
A petition started July 23 by three parents in the district has garnered roughly 400 signatures calling for the district to implement a synchronous — or in-real-time — online-learning option for students whose parents are uncomfortable with enrolling them full-time or part-time for in-person classes.
Presently, the district's online-learning option is asynchronous, meaning classes are prerecorded and students can take the lessons per their own schedules and preferred pace. That doesn't bode well for one parent, who asked to not be named due to what they claimed was a small amount negative feedback that was "overwhelming to deal with."
At a July 13 meeting, at which the school board approved the back-to-school plan, the parent asked why the board won't implement synchronous learning as an option.
“I received the answer that there were legality and privacy issues, and just (because) technology is there doesn't mean it's good,” she said.
But, she added, nearby districts — such as the neighboring Mars Area School District — will present synchronous learning as a choice for parents, despite whatever legal or privacy issues Seneca considered too risky to offer the option.
Mars Superintendent Mark Gross said synchronous online learning provides students with some of the soft components of education — that is, parts beyond education — that asynchronous options don't have. While, he said, in-person learning is preferred, synchronous learning is a better substitute than the alternative.
“I think we have to always remember that beyond just the academic needs of students, it's the social and emotional pieces of education that we feel that that model helps with,” Gross said. “That's why we would like to open. We believe instruction goes way beyond the academics — it's the social emotional opportunities that students are exposed to, and it's that growth, also.”
Seneca Valley released a statement addressing the petition stating it is “committed” to listening to feedback from parents, the statement reads, and “understand(s)” the importance of considering ideas from all viewpoints.
“We are also aware of the petition currently circulating by a parent who is also an employee in our district. However, it is concerning that the petition does not require residency in the Seneca Valley School District to sign,” the statement said. “Therefore, we have been encouraging those interested in such an option to contact us directly at email@example.com.”
The parent said the district's response is incorrect, as the survey site procured ZIP codes from signatories. She added that all but five supporters had addresses in the district, but did not provide the Eagle with documentation to confirm that.
She also claimed Seneca Valley's commitment to hearing all viewpoints is pretextual, claiming the only dialogue that has been held on reopening was a survey without synchronous learning as an option, and three speakers at a virtual board meeting. The district also did not release a draft plan before the adoption at its meeting.
“There should be more dialogue, and I guarantee ... if they send out a survey today with this as an additional option, they would have an overwhelming response,” she said.
The parent said one of her concerns with the district's reopening plan is the use of the phrase “when feasible.” In the plan, the district plans on applying social distancing measures “when feasible,” which to her was too vague.
“I'm just a really concerned mom about putting my kids on a bus with 80 kids, into a school with 2,000 kids,” she said. But without synchronous distance learning, “it's a rock and a hard place.”
Editor's Note: The original version of this article misidentified the reason Seneca Valley did not respond to individual questions from the media due to miscommunication between the paper and the district.