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Calling A Time Out

School board acts not to hire fall sports coaches

Photo by Casey Ferry The Warren Area High School Dragon sports a mask in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warren County School District officials don’t know what next year will bring.

At a recent school board meeting, one member said, “We don’t know what we’re doing two months from now or a week from now.” That is still largely the case.

With respect to fall sports, the district has some not-so-clear guidance from Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Gatherings for planned or spontaneous events of more than 250 people, including concerts, sporting events with spectators, movies, theater, festival, and conferences, are prohibited,” according to a release from the governor regarding the green phase.

That language does not specifically prohibit sporting events that do not include large gatherings.

Still, the district is not counting any unhatched chickens at this point.

“It is possible, due to COVID-19, that athletic opportunities may be altered, postponed, or canceled,” according to narrative in the district’s proposed final 2020-21 budget.

An item recommending that the district not hire coaches for fall sports was approved unanimously at a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday.

Although many coaches retain their positions year after year, they work under one-year contracts.

The board did provide an avenue for funding athletics in the fall, but did not write it in stone.

The board members unanimously approved the proposed final budget. That budget includes more than $3.2 million in contingency funds “as opposed to their ‘normal’ line items.” Among the contingency items is funding for athletics.

There will be school. What it will look like is unclear.

Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health guidelines would not work for Warren County schools.

“If these CDC guidelines are in place (when school is scheduled to start in the fall), 12 students get on a bus and 9.8 students fit in our average classroom,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

That won’t work.

The district’s bus runs are too long to allow three or four runs, she said.

And there aren’t two empty rooms sitting around for every one that was occupied last year.

Even if schools reopen without restrictions, district officials expect a higher proportion of students to be looking for online courses.

“This is a very political issue,” Stewart said. “Our constituents are on a spectrum — all of the above.”

Regardless of political ideologies, “There are going to be people that aren’t comfortable sending their children to school,” she said.

So, the district is getting ready for another period of online learning — for some or all of the student body — in addition to getting the buildings ready.

“We’re going to be ready,” Stewart said. “We’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us. All of our teachers are being trained for online now.”

Online learning is fine for many subjects and many teachers. “There are some difficult areas out there,” Stewart said, “career center programs, music, languages.”

Wolf issued some strongly-worded guidance on Wednesday that could apply to schools.

While businesses can be up and running at some percentage of their former activity in the green phase, there was nothing specific about schools.

The same language that might apply to high school sporting events could mean schools cannot open in the green phase.

The schools in the district represent planned gatherings of more than 250 people.

GRADUATION

What is certain is that the current school year was closed down by the governor’s decree. That includes graduation ceremonies.

“Our graduation plans are all in cars,” Stewart said.

Officials at the high schools have developed plans and will implement them next week.

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