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WCSD’s careful thought process

Warren County School District was in the act of dismissing for the week when officials learned their schools would be closed for two weeks.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the closure of all Pennsylvania K-12 schools at about 3 p.m. Friday.

District superintendents throughout the state were briefed Friday morning by Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

Superintendent Amy Stewart gathered with her colleagues from Erie and Crawford county districts at IU#5 in Edinboro for the briefing.

The result of that education community briefing with Rivera did not leave the superintendents thinking there would be a statewide shutdown.

“We determined at that time that the message was that PDE was there to support us as we made our own decisions about closure,” Stewart said.

Based on that, Warren County School District prepared and publicized a letter shortly before the announcement without knowledge of the governor’s decision. “We came up with a plan to function under those guidelines,” Stewart said.

In that letter, district personnel announced that all gatherings of more than 250 people outside of the school day and all use of district facilities by non-school organizations would be suspended; likewise all field trips outside of district facilities, all club events, all athletic scrimmages and competitions, and employee participation in conferences and work-related travel outside of the county were scrubbed; district personnel were not to meet face-to-face with officials from outside the district; and no visitors, except for parents picking up sick children, would be allowed in the schools.

At that point, practices and after-school activities were still on.

At the governor’s press conference on Thursday, education issues were not addressed. Hearing advice that religious officials and others hosting groups of 250 people or more were encouraged to not hold such meetings, the district took the interim step of postponing opening night of the All-County Musical Junior and calling off two junior high volleyball matches in the county.

Those steps took the district through to Friday’s education community briefing, where officials expected to receive more specific guidance.

Following the briefing, Stewart had a meeting with county officials Friday to set “up some communications foundations that we were going to utilize,” she said.

She heard from Commissioner Ben Kafferlin after that meeting.

“I got a text from Ben at 3:08,” Stewart said. “I’m in the middle of dismissal.”

That’s how she heard that the governor was closing Warren County School District for 10 days.

The governor’s announcement spurred some more frenetic activity.

“We have had preliminary plans in place knowing this might be coming,” she said. “Our energies today were focused” on moving forward with school. “We are switching gears.”

When the district does not hold a regularly-scheduled school day for an emergency — typically a snow day — it has to make that day up at some point. State law requires that schools offer 180 educational days each year.

Monday, March 16, is one of those days the district sets aside as an energy day. If there are snow days, the district holds classes on energy days.

But, for the purposes of the next 10 days, the governor will not make schools make up those days.

“The 180-day requirement has been dropped,” Stewart said.

The governor also announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will permit eligible schools to serve meals to low-income students. The district does not have all the details hammered out yet.

“We’re working on it,” Stewart said. “We met with the union president this afternoon. We’ve had conversations with our food service director.”

The whole situation has kept school officials on their toes.

“In talking to all of the superintendents, the education community, our attorneys, this is unprecedented,” Stewart said. “I am very confident and complimentary of all the folks that we are working with within the community.”

“It’s been frustrating getting information from the state in this manner,” she said.

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