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East Allegheny school directors have delayed action on a proposed health and safety plan for reopening the district.
At a special meeting held Monday, the board voted to table the first draft of the plan, which was posted for public review on the district’s website July 9. The meeting was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
New school superintendent Alan Johnson cautioned that the plan would probably need to be modified as the school year approaches because of the way things are changing so rapidly.
The proposed plan was chosen based on four scenarios presented by the Pennsylvania Department of Education back in early June, when Allegheny County first went into the so-called green phase.
Since then, Allegheny County has posted several days with double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases.
“At the time that this plan was physically drafted — which was actually before I came on board, although I’ve certainly had a lot of opportunity to look at it — we weren’t experiencing that spike,” Johnson said. “Now we are. I don’t even know at this point if it’s going to be possible to bring kids back into school come August or September, the way the current spike is going.”
Mark Draskovich, East Allegheny director of pupil services, said the draft plan proposes a “blended” reopening that would divide the district in half. Half of the students would attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other half on Thursdays and Fridays.
The district would sanitize the schools between those in-person days.
Every student would receive a total of five days of instruction both in-person and online, Draskovich said.
“Every individual classroom teacher has to make their own plans on how to make sure each one of their classrooms are as safe as they possibly can (be) when we do bring kids in,” Draskovich said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, many parents expressed concerns about reopening while COVID-19 continues to spread, with some parents asking what would happen if a student, teacher or staff member became ill.
Johnson said the district would follow the guidelines in place for Allegheny County. The student or staff member would be required to stay home and go into quarantine for two weeks. Staff would work to determine who had contact with the individual and they would be required to quarantine as well.
Affected areas of school buildings would then be sanitized, he said.
The proposed reopening plan includes daily temperature checks and symptom screening. Parents also would be asked to check their children before they leave for school each day, and keep their student at home if they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.
Under the plan, any student who had a fever at school would be isolated until transportation home is arranged.
The district has proposed hiring a health room aide to help with the isolation and transportation process. A district vehicle will be equipped with Plexiglas buffers and would be used for transportation if a parent is unable to pick up their child. The vehicle would be sanitized after each use.
One parent, Cortney Verner, asked the board to consider a full-time cyber-learning option for the 2020-21 school year.
Johnson said that is not currently an option at East Allegheny, due to limited staff. However, he said, the district is talking to vendors who may be able provide supplemental material to the current curriculum to make a full-time cyber-school option a possibility.
The superintendent said he didn’t yet have a definitive answer as to whether that would be available for the upcoming school year.
The district is also in the process of forming a discussion group for parents of children with disabilities, he said.
A plan must be in place as part of the district’s Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services for students who need additional academic or behavioral support.
Another parent, Ginny Carper, said she is both a nurse and mother of a child with health issues. She said she was torn between keeping her son safe, and allowing him to receive the benefits of attending school in person.
“I'm terrified to send my son to school,” Carper said. “I know what I see every day, and I know how bad and how critical his health is.” Asking students to wear masks is not enough, she said, because even many adults don’t wear them correctly.
“How are you going to (ensure) 6- and 7-year-olds wear a mask the correct way?” Carper said.
Johnson said that’s one of the reasons the district’s reopening plan includes splitting the student body in half.
“We knew (with) a smaller number of kids they could be further apart, so if there were some who weren’t (wearing a mask) or weren’t cooperating in the way that’s required, we would have the ability to work with them or at least keep them apart from other kids who are doing it,” he said.
The school board also tabled a vote on amending the school calendar. A new start date of August 31 was suggested to give teachers more in-service days to prepare for the return to in-person classes.
School directors said they are planning another special meeting at the end of July for the sole purpose of approving a plan of action for the 2020-21 school year.
Johnson said the district may either distribute another survey to parents or hold a town hall meeting to gather more input from everyone concerned.
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on WMCK Internet Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays. This is her first byline for Tube City Almanac. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 14, 2020.