Peters Township School District students whose families opt for them to attend classes in person are poised to do so five days a week when the new academic year begins.
During a special voting meeting Monday, the school board approved a health and safety plan for reopening that calls for the full-week schedule. The other possibilities under consideration were a “hybrid model” combining in-class and remote instruction, and a fully remote setup for all students.
For parents and guardians who choose not to send their children to school, the district has given them the option of full-time learning at home, with a deadline of Aug. 7 to make the determination.
The first day of school for students is scheduled for Aug. 24, and circumstances between now and then could result in a shift away from the five-day option. The format is subject to change at any point, with Superintendent Jeannine French charged with making determinations for the sake of expediency.
“There will be no delays,” she said. “We would never allow children to be in an unsafe situation.”
The school board’s vote on the health and safety plan was 6-3, with Thomas McMurray, board president, joining Minna Allison, Rebecca Bowman, Rolf Briegel, Jennifer Grossman and the Rev. Jamison Hardy.
Opposed were Lisa Anderson, Ronald Dunleavy and Daniel Taylor, all of whom said they would prefer the year to start as a hybrid, with students attending two consecutive school days and learning remotely the next three.
“I do strongly believe that going to five days right off the bat is premature,” Taylor said, citing the closing of most academic institutions since mid-March because of COVID-19. “All of a sudden, in the next month to six weeks, we’re going to have all that stuff starting back up. What does that do? Nobody knows.”
He and Anderson suggested monitoring the situation and, if conditions warrant it, switching to a five-day week at a later point.
McMurray, though, offered a counter point of view in regard to starting with a hybrid approach.
“I think there’s a comfort level we would develop, and it would be put off, put off, put off,” he said. “And I don’t know when it could ever stop.”
Dunleavy, a Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee instructor, reported he recently completed an eight-week program without incident. Students attended class once or twice a week and took a substantial amount of work home.
“I really felt confident that actually gave them the education they needed as well as kept them safe,” Dunleavy said, also attributing the wearing of masks to helping the cause.
Peters Township’s 18-page health and safety plan, which has been submitted as required to Pennsylvania Department of Education, contains requirements for all students, staff members and visitors to don face coverings while on school property, including parents and guardians while dropping off or picking up students.
Exceptions are made for individuals who “have a medical or mental health condition or disability, documented in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, that precludes the wearing of a mask,” according to the plan.
The policy includes provisions for breaks from masks, such as during lunch periods. In those cases, individuals must remain at least six feet away from one another.
Also within the plan are protocols for monitoring students and staff members for symptoms of and history of exposure to COVID-19, including having their temperatures screened when entering buildings.
“Students and staff who are sick or have symptoms should not report to school,” the policy states. “Attendance procedures will be modified to encourage students and staff to remain home if they are not feeling well.”
With school officials working diligently to ensure the safety of students, Bowman urged others to follow their lead.
“It does take a village to make this work, and it’s absolutely critical that the citizens in the community behave like responsible grownups,” she said. “If your child has participated in an activity that has the potential to be a spreader event or a super-spreader event, it’s up to the parents of that child to make sure that the child is tested, that the contact is reported.”
French stated a similar case.
“We’re going to see increased cases in our community. We’re going to see cases in our schools. We’re not immune,” the superintendent said. “And to the point that our community can come together and engage in behaviors that are less likely to spread this disease, we’re going to be in better shape in the schools.”