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Moving Forward

County School District buildings to reopen

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Sheffield Elementary School, and the other buildings in Warren County School District, will reopen fully to staff and students on Sept. 1 according to the reopening plan approved Monday by the school board.

The Warren County School District is moving forward with a full reopening plan.

At Monday’s school board meeting, the board unanimously approved a reopening plan that would allow for the return of all students and staff to the district’s buildings.

There were some minor changes made Monday, but, generally, school-day schedules, the school-year calendar, and transportation would not change.

The board approved a resolution outlining its rationale in approving a full-reopen plan.

In the resolution, the board cites the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Secretary of Education, Gov. Tom Wolf, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“As of July 10, 2020, Warren County had only 9 confirmed cases of COVID-19,” the board said in the resolution. “The board feels strongly that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach should not be taken and that the confirmed cases and unique circumstances in each county should be considered with respect to Health and Safety Plan that is adopted by each school district.

“Governor Wolf himself has made statements to the effect that he wants local governments to make decisions based on the unique circumstances of their area. On July 1, 2020, Governor Wolf was quoted as saying, ‘I want local folks to feel confident they have the ability to take control.’

“The survey results obtained by the district and other information received from students and parents reflected a strong desire from students and parents/guardians to reopen schools in a manner that is consistent with the plan adopted by the board.

“The board, based on information provided by the administration and published by various education experts, has significant concerns about the educational harm to students if the Board were to adopt a 100 percent online plan that did not provide an option for full time, in-person, classroom instruction.

“On July 8, 2020, the Director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, stated that the CDC guidelines are recommendations, not requirements, and are not intended to be a barrier to returning to school.”

The board quoted Redfield saying, ‘Having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen.'”

Reopening virtually presents other problems — including access. The district is in a better position to handle a shutdown, or a dramatic increase in students attending the Virtual Academy, this year

The district has purchased 1,000 internet hotspots to help ensure students who want to attend virtually, or those who do not have sufficient internet access at home during another possible shutdown, are able to have appropriate internet access.

On Monday, the board did make some minor COVID-19-related changes, including one to the calendar that does not impact student attendance.

Superintendent Amy Stewart said she was considering waiving student parking fees in order to encourage students to drive themselves to school and increase the space on buses in the interest of social distancing. According to policy, the superintendent has the authority to set the fee.

The board approved the movement of a professional-development day from March to the beginning of the school year to allow teachers a “tech ready day” — time to input all the student data they will need into electronic systems.

A proposed ‘early start’ for students in early elementary grades was apparently set aside.

“We have been having conversations with our K, 1, 2, 3 teachers about a voluntary early start,” Stewart said. “They are not all necessarily in support of an early start. They would like to get started and then see.”

The board approved hiring additional custodians to handle the added workload due to COVID-19 disinfection requirements.

The board also gave Stewart the authority to pay 220-day principals for additional time. She said those administrators typically do not work in July, but are concerned they will not have time to make all the preparations needed this year. Stewart will also be able to bring back some retired administrators to help handle the additional workload.

The board authorized the purchase of 10 facial-recognition temperature kiosks at a cost of $25,050.

The district is hoping to continue to exchange information with the community regarding a return to school in the COVID-19 era.

Stewart said her office has been turned into something of a recording studio and she will soon begin posting videos in which she talks about the changes that will take place this school year.

The focus groups that provided stakeholder information to the board and administration will also continue, she said.

The board did not discuss specific masking requirements. Jewel Rozanski, a parent and teacher in the district, addressed the board, asking for flexibility with any mask requirements.

“I’m afraid that a one-size fits-all-approach will lead to more students leaving the district,” Rozanski said. “Allow for some fleixiblity on how it will be enforced.”

She also expressed concerns about students being required to wear what will essentially become “petri dishes on their faces.”

Stewart said the nature of the pandemic and the constantly-changing rules and guidelines that are related to it will require flexibility. She said she expects the reopening plan to be revised, possibly repeatedly, as the beginning of the school year draws near.

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