October 13, 2020

“In my personal efforts to be a good leader, and a good person for that matter, I believe it is important to recognize and acknowledge when I have made a mistake,” Superintendent Mark Bielang began to explain in an emailed blog post to the Portage Public Schools school board and staff. 

“As a District, we are required to submit an Extended Continuity of Learning Plan (ECLP) to KRESA by October 1, 2020,” he continued. “It is not required that local boards approve the plan prior to submission even though local boards must reconfirm the plan every 30 days. . .We scheduled a presentation of the ECLP to the board at the September 28, 2020 meeting as an information item so that board members were aware of the elements of the plan and what was being submitted,” Bielang shared. September 28 was two days before the plan had to be filed, leaving little time to alter it. 

Bielang’s assertion that the district does not require approval from the school board appears to be in conflict with the Portage Public Schools handbook, as the hybrid learning plan presented to the Board represented a change from the original plan, not a continuation of it (the original plan stipulated that virtual learning would occur as long as Portage’s region of the state was in Phase 4). According to the handbook, administration must get the approval of the board before submitting the schoolwide plan that would affect the entire community. 

Bielang soon admitted he was wrong in his assumptions of not having to get the board’s approval. “Any changes to that plan (for example, moving toward a hybrid delivery model while in Phase IV) required Board approval,” he said in his blog post. “Up until Monday morning, we had been moving forward under the assumption that board approval was not required and that changes to instructional delivery could be made through the ECLP.” 

The apologetic post also takes the blame for the lack of communication the district displayed. It also outlines a rationale behind the proposed change: “We are seeing more and more evidence that so many students are not engaged and/or thriving under the virtual only plan,” it read. It also indicated that the district would slow plans to return to face to face learning: “We heard you,” the  post concludes. “So, as Dr. Pascoe and Mr. Huber told you yesterday, we are holding off on the November 2nd timeline for implementation of the hybrid model. We all know kids need to be back in school, and we recognize that we need to take the time needed to make sure that we can do it responsibly. . .We know we don’t always get it right, but what I do know is that we all want to be transparent and accountable as we work together to achieve our mission and approach our vision.”

Huber and Pascoe both issued their own apologies to teachers and teacher leaders in communications that were internal-only at the time this article was published.

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