As is the case practically with every institution in the wake of drastic precautions against the spread of COVID-19, Peters Township School District is scrambling to keep up with the latest applicable information.
“While it may be frustrating because information may not seem to turn over as quickly as possible, we are committed to accuracy over speed,” Superintendent Jeannine French said during Monday’s school board meeting. “We want to make sure that when we are communicating with our families that we’re releasing thoughtful and accurate information.”
Limited for the most part to board members and administrations seated with appropriate social distancing, the meeting opened with French discussing the district’s efforts in continuing to inform stakeholders.
“I think it’s important for our community to know that our commitment is to keeping up with the rapidly changing guidelines,” she said. “And for our part, we’re making sure that when we analyze these guidelines, we’re looking at their impact across all of our role groups and all of our children in all educational settings.”
That includes special education, which the school district provides to more than 470 students. Taking those students into consideration within the context of the federal Free Appropriate Public Education requirement has hindered the efforts of Peters Township and other districts to offer online education while Pennsylvania schools are closed under Gov. Tom Wolf’s order, at least through March 27.
“Once you engage in instruction for any group of children, you have to provide full and comprehensive instruction, and support, for all children,” French said, referencing such aspects as occupational and physical therapies, hearing and English as Second Language services, and other accommodations.
“And if we are not able to accommodate the education for all of our children, we’re not considered as being completely compliant with free and appropriate public education,” she continued, with the statewide ramification: “I think you’ll see a lot of the districts that had initially come out with flexible instruction days or other means of online instruction have pulled back those plans.”
The superintendent also spoke about guidance provided by Pennsylvania Department of Education with regard to schools providing the required amounts of days and hours for the academic year. According to information released Sunday by the department, academic institutions that fail to do so will not be penalized, and they will be provided with a simplified form “to report any shortfall in days or hours.”
French said she has read the updated waiver.
“The fine print says, can you meet your 180 instructional days by June 30? That means pushing the calendar back,” she explained. “Then the next question says, if you receive the waiver for the 180 days, how can you meet the required 990 hours?”
She said answers from the department of education and other relevant agencies should be forthcoming.
“I understand that our governments are working on so many different things, and they are working hard to get it right. And we are sending questions for clarification daily,” she said. “We’re only day one in the school closure, and so I have complete confidence that we’ll get the direction and guidance we need to be able to support our families.”