Pa. private schools form 'Christian school district' with in-person classes this fall

Unsplash/Jessica Lewis
Unsplash/Jessica Lewis

Two suburban Philadelphia private schools have merged to create what they are calling a “Christian school district” and plan to have full-time, in-person classes this fall. 

The schools — Berks Christian School and West-Mont Christian Academy in Pottstown — will remain as separate schools but have officialized the partnership in which they will share a single leadership team.

“It has been a very exciting week at BCS as we announced creating a Christian school district with our friends from West-Mont Christian Academy!” a post on the BCS Facebook page reads. 

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According to BCS, the process to merge the school’s resources to create a Christian school district serving three counties was in the works before the coronavirus pandemic. Both schools offer preschool through 12th-grade education.  

“We are so thankful that God is always working in His perfect timing!” the BCS Facebook post states. 

According to The Reading Eagle, resources at both schools will be merged to provide more robust biblically-integrated education across Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties. 

The schools say they share a "philosophical common ground of excellence in Biblically-based education that motivates students to lead and serve in their local communities."

"The combined resources of the district will allow more robust programming on both campuses,"  Phil Warner, Berks Christian's head of school, told the newspaper. 

The schools worked together to create an online format when Pennsylvania mandated all schools halt in-person instruction amid the pandemic. 

The online program will be enhanced and available for the coming academic year through the new partnership.

Home education is also offered by the new district, through both Berks and West-Mont. 

According to the Annie E. Casie Foundation, 24,658 Pennsylvania children are enrolled in homeschool programs, as homeschooling has gained popularity since 2014.

“Each group had pieces that came together to allow us to be responsive to our parents and students,” Anthony Buttacy, West-Mont’s Head of School said in a statement. “To continue to grow, this district model is the next step to take to ensure that both campuses continue to thrive.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has released a lengthy set of guidelines for school officials and teachers as the state prepares for the academic year during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a recent statement, individual counties will cater their instruction to two metrics: incidence rate and percent positivity.

Counties, including Berks, Montgomery and Chester, will review the two metrics to determine whether the coronavirus risk is low, moderate or substantial. Guidelines on how to instruct students safely depend on this dictation, according to the department.

“It is important to note that a safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district, and county depending on a variety of factors,” the PDE statement reads. “One of which is the spread of COVID-19.”

“School entity decisions on instructional models require a great deal of consideration of local factors,” the statement continued. “Including size of the school entity, classroom size, school resources, proportion of staff and students with special needs and underlying health conditions, and the ability to accommodate remote learning with equal access for all students.”

A county with a low level of coronavirus cases (5% positivity rate) is recommended to use full in-person or a blended teaching model in schools. Counties with a moderate level (5% to 10% positivity rate) are recommended to use a blended or fully-remote model. Counties with a high level are recommended to instruct in a fully-remote style.

As of Tuesday, Montgomery County has had over 10,000 coronavirus cases. Montgomery has the most cases among counties served by the new Christian school district. Chester and Berks have both had over 5,000 coronavirus cases reported as of Wednesday evening. 

The new system plans to begin with in-person instruction starting Aug. 1. 

According to a post on the West-Mont Christian Academy Facebook page, the school has capped class sizes to ensure social distancing requirements are met in each of its classrooms.

According to the schools’ joint COVID-19 preparedness plan, class sizes “will not go above the number of desks that can be kept at least 6 feet apart.” 

“All communal spaces, such as faculty or student lounges, lobbies, cafeterias, and libraries, will be closed,” the plan states.

The new school district “positions both schools to meet the challenges of the current COVID-19 crisis and to provide excellent education to families in the region for years to come," according to the BCS statement. 

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