Physical distancing

Physical-distancing strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are in place for Upper St. Clair schools.

Upper St. Clair School Board plans to vote Aug. 17 on approving a 2020-21 reopening plan that calls for a hybrid combination of in-person and remote instruction, at least to begin the academic year.

Because of continuing concerns about COVID-19, an option for learning at home is available for all students, with the district seeking notification from parents and guardians by Aug. 10.

For those who choose an in-person component, the reopening plan recommends students attending class twice a week on consecutive days, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Having fewer students and staff members in school would help the district comply with various mandates, requirements and recommendations, particularly in association with distancing and face covering.

“This is by no means an intent to remain in this model for the entire school year,” Superintendent John Rozzo said during an Aug. 3 board committee meeting. “We intend to open up fully as quickly as we can, when the conditions provide us to do that and whenever we feel it is safe enough to do that for our students.”

He presented specifics of the reopening plan, which teams of administrators developed with substantial input from staff members, consultants and members of the Upper St. Clair community through surveys and opportunities to comment.

“Parent feedback is certainly a key driver in how we make decisions related to the reopening of schools,” the superintendent said.

The plan includes the key question: “Is this (truly) a local decision?”

“What we believe is the case here is that the constraints of health guidance and mandates are forcing us into a hybrid model,” Rozzo told the school board. “Could we ignore that? Sure.”

But to do so, he said, likely would result in a significant number of students and staff members being quarantined “very quickly,” as per current Allegheny County Health Department requirements.

“We would have students in masks the entire day,” Rozzo continued, referring to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s universal masking order. “And we would more than likely be going to a remote model and not moving in the direction to a full in-person return, which is our goal.”

Solicitor Jocelyn Kramer acknowledged guidance from agencies at various governmental levels is subject to frequent change, but the prudent course of action is to attempt implementation as closely as possible.

“We have a known risk in our environment currently, and if we disregard that duty of care, we could be exposing the district to significant liability,” she said.

One of the key components of the reopening plan is an emphasis on students’ and staff members’ well-being in an nonmedical aspect with regard to COVID-19.

“We are, as a society, very concerned about the physical health of individuals related to this virus, and as we should be. And I’m certainly not minimizing that, at all,” Rozzo said. “But what does concern me is there has been a lack of focus on the social and emotional health of students, and adults, as well.”

He reported having many conversations during the pandemic with members of the Upper St. Clair community.

“It’s not to criticize the district. It’s really more to ask for support, ask for help, because they are watching their children self-destruct. They are watching their children socially and emotionally and academically deteriorate. That causes great concern for me,” he said. “That’s why I am committed to getting them back into school full-time as soon as we can, as soon as the conditions permit us to do so.”

Whether students choose fully remote learning or an in-person option to start the school year, they can switch at any time.

“Now, it may take a few days for us to have that transition, but we’re not saying that you have to commit to one model for nine weeks versus the other,” Rozzo said, pointing out the use solely of Upper St. Clair curriculum taught by district faculty members is intended to help expedite the process. “It affords students and families the opportunity to seamlessly transition either into school or out of school.”

The district’s 2020-21 caledar has been updated to include Aug. 24 as the official start for stuff members. Students report Sept. 3 for two “orientation days to the new learning environment for this year,” Rozzo said, and Sept. 8 is the first day to participate in person for those who choose that option.

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Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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