Montgomery, Hughesville respond to PDE’s reopening guidance
Area superintendents got a recent look tat what reopening schools in the fall will look like as the state’s Department of Education sent out guidance on what needs to be done to bring students back to school safely during the current health crisis.
The first step as prescribed by PDE is for districts to appoint a pandemic coordinator or committee to formulate a health and safety plan for reopening. The plans then have to be approved by the school board and posted online. Community input is also an important part of the process.
The day after the guidance from Pedro Rivera, the state’s secretary of education, was issued, the administration at the Montgomery Area School District sent out a survey to the community.
“We put a survey out to our community,” said Daphne Bowers, superintendent at Montgomery, “and that will be out for a week.”
“Then we will be looking at that data to kind of get an idea of how comfortable, mainly parents but also community members, are with the idea of students coming back to school full-time for face-to-face instruction,” she explained.
According to the guidance offered by PDE, schools in both the yellow and green phases can begin making plans. Currently Lycoming County is in the green phase, but that could change, so districts have to prepare for both scenarios, Bowers said.
Plans could include face-to-face instruction, a blend of online and face-to-face or all online instruction, depending on what phase the county is in when fall arrives.
Bowers said that once the data from the community is compiled, then the administration will sit down with the team and the school board to see how they can go about attaining goals established by the CDC. The health and safety plan for the district will then be developed.
“We need to make a plan for what we can do to keep our staff and our students safe,” Bowers said, adding that the plan should be completed by the July 21 school board meeting.
She wanted to stress that even though there are difficulties, a plan will be made.
“I don’t want to create fear in the community, because no matter what, we will be successful at what we do. It’s just how we’re going to make the plan,” she said.
Other districts contacted revealed a similar path for creating a health and safety plan as well as a similarity in the difficulties likely to be encountered in complying with the recommendations of the CDC and the state’s department.
With many of the local districts serving rural populations where students are bussed to school, the transporting guidelines create a difficulty both in execution and in cost.
“Some of the guidelines include transportation of studentsone student to a seat, skipping every other seat,” Bowers said. “To transport all students to and from school in that manner would be very difficult.”
Class size can be another problem that can be difficult for schools to solve before reopening.
“Having class sizes that would allow for student to sit in a classroom six feet apart would be very difficult to attain,” she added.
East Lycoming’s superintendent Michael Pawlik said that he is hoping that PDE will be providing more information to districts to help clarify what needs to be done to reopen in the fall.
“At this point we’re just waiting for some additional information to provide just a little bit more clarity,” Pawlik said. “There are so many situations that we face in a school during a day that fall under so many different categories. It’s going to be challenge for us to work through every possible scenario to create guidelines for us to follow.”
He noted that PDE’s next phase includes providing districts with a template to be used to create the plan which will then be passed by the school boards. Pawlik said that he hopes the template will also give some clarity to the process.
“When you’re talking about, depending on the phases, keeping kids separated in the halls and not using large group instruction rooms or areas like cafeterias. That becomes a challenge for school districts with 750 children in a building the cafeteria is someplace they’re all going to end up en masses at some point in time. So how do you work around those challenges,” Pawlik said.
Pawlik, too, is concerned about transporting students. East Lycoming is a large district geographically, so much of the student population is transported by school bus.
“Just for efficiency purposes, we’ve always worked from the standpoint of maximizing the seats available on the bus so we can keep the cost containment. So, it will be a challenge to see what the final guidelines are going to be for transportation,” he said.