The start of any school year involves plenty of preparation, but getting ready for 2020-21 is on a whole new level.
In advance of the scheduled return of students to classes Aug. 24, Mt. Lebanon School District has formed a Recovery Steering Committee with the mission of ensuring safety and continuity of education in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.
Members of the committee include district administrators, staff and faculty members, and students, along with parents and other Mt. Lebanon residents.
Assistant superintendents Ronald Davis, who has been named the district’s pandemic coordinator, and Marybeth Irvin gave a detailed presentation about the committee during the school board’s June 8 discussion meeting, which was held by videoconference and subsequently made available online.
Irvin explained the committee is using U.S. Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools preparedness guidelines as a framework for moving forward.
“This is what helps guide our thinking and make sure that we are sticking with best practice,” she said. “It makes sure that we are not leaving things off the table. It provides us a way to organize and make sure that we are planning for every single contingency.”
Following an exploratory period, which included a community survey that generated responses from about 2,600 families, the committee identified four major concerns, or areas of risk, to address.
“One is the need to provide online instruction, whether that is for particular groups of students or whether that is in the case of a further outbreak that would require us to go back to a shutdown situation,” Irvin said. “The second risk was the possibility of having to return to school under physical-distancing guidelines or other state safety requirements that will impact the way that we would normally do business.”
The other risk areas, she said, address the need to mitigate any kind of educational loss or effects on students’ well-being associated with the abrupt closure of schools after March 13, and the importance of the district to be “able to suddenly pivot” should more emergencies arise.
To address the points of concern from various perspectives, the recovery group formed four subcommittees. Irvin and Val Brown, a fifth-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary and Mt. Lebanon Education Association president, co-lead the academic subcommittee, which features students as members.
“We feel like this is the most appropriate place for them to work,” Irvin said.
The subcommittee’s objectives focus primarily on striving for quality teaching and learning in “hybrid environments,” incorporating classroom and online studies, and adhering to protective measures such as physical-distancing guidelines when students are in school.
In the latter regard, a physical and structural subcommittee has the primary objective of “having safe buildings for our students to return to,” according to Davis, who co-leads the group with district director of facilities Rick Marciniak.
Considerations include increasing air circulation, making sure water is safe for use, intensifying the cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and frequently touched objects, and stockpiling necessary supplies and equipment.
Also, the subcommittee will examine response and cleaning protocols in the event a person diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in a building or inside a vehicle used by the district for transportation.
A financial subcommittee – co-led by Rob Geletko, district director of business, and Katie Devine, director of human resources – is creating a five-year “recovery roadmap” of budgetary stability, which in the short term includes applying for local, state and federal aid related to COVID-19.
The HR component involves developing workplace guidelines with regard to employees’ safety, determining how to screen employees and visitors for illness, providing resources to support the personal needs of employees, and addressing collective bargaining agreement issues resulting from revised operational procedures.
A fourth subcommittee focuses on mental and physical health needs of students and staff members. Co-leading the group are Heather Doyle, district director of special education, and Melissa Nelson, Washington Elementary School principal.
Part of the Recovery Steering Committee’s responsibility is to serve as the “pandemic team” as identified in Pennsylvania Department of Education’s preliminary guidance for phased reopening of schools. Among the requirements is the creation of health and safety plans to be approved by local school boards and submitted to the department.
“The plan also requires considerable training, which makes a lot of sense,” Mt. Lebanon Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said. “It requires clear and consistent signage throughout the district. And it clearly asks us to look at our athletic protocols, because that is such an important part of our educational experience, along with marching band, that will be coming up in the summer.”
More information about the Recovery Steering Committee is available at www.mtlsd.org/district/recovery-steering-committee.