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East Allegheny School District will begin the 2020-21 academic year remotely.
At a special meeting held virtually on Monday, Superintendent Alan Johnson said that with Allegheny County still experiencing new COVID-19 cases — close to 200 per day — and with more young people being diagnosed, the district has decided to shift to a remote opening plan.
“We just do not believe we are in a position to safely operate any kind of on-site class within the school district for the first nine weeks,” Johnson said.
At the July 13 school board meeting, the district discussed a hybrid model that would have seen students split into two groups, each attending two days of class per week in-person, and three days of virtual schooling.
There will be some exceptions to the remote reopening plan, involving students with disabilities, individual education programs, or IEPs, and others who require face to face instruction, Johnson said.
Those students will be helped on a case-by-case basis, he said. Plans are in place to do in-person instruction as safely as possible, Johnson said, using protective equipment, proper sanitization and providing transportation.
Johnson said the district currently does not have enough devices to ensure all students are equipped with the technology needed by the first day of school, which has been moved up to Aug. 31.
Although East Allegheny has received funding to order additional Google Chromebook tablets, Johnson said that so many school districts have placed orders for the devices, there is a delay.
The district anticipates receiving another shipment of devices during the first nine weeks of instruction to help cover the remaining students, he said. A new technology survey has been sent out and is posted on the district’s website to determine who is in need of a device or internet service.
The remote instruction will include a mix of both live and recorded teaching, allowing kids at times to interact. Both the junior and senior high school and elementary students will utilize Google Classroom, which students started using back in March.
Two issues that arose during the 2019-20 school year included a lack of teacher-student interaction and technological obstacles. Johnson said there will be regularly scheduled opportunities for students to get help individually and work in small groups by integrating different tools into the Google Classroom.
Because of the changing nature of the current pandemic, instruction will adapt as needed, Johnson said.
The district’s goal is to bring students back for in-person classes during the second nine weeks, if it is deemed safe, using the hybrid model.
However, East Allegheny also will be offering two virtual platforms. One is called EA Home Base, will include both live and recorded instruction, a continuation of the first nine weeks remote learning for those families who do not feel comfortable with in-person learning.
Families also can choose the EA Academy, the district’s existing cyber option, Johnson said. The academy’s online instructional platform provides limited interaction with EA staff unless a student requests assistance from a teacher.
Food service will be provided during the first nine weeks under guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Johnson said.
Socialization opportunities, including marching band and athletic practices, are currently being held under the guidelines set by the county and state departments of health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A few parents spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting and stressed the hardship of working while also coordinating a remote learning schedule for their children.
Mark Draskovich, director of pupil services and junior high principal, says the district’s plan is the safest way to start the school year for everyone involved.
“If we look at projections where if we have a number of teachers forced to quarantine, we would have to shut down entirely and might not be able to provide any instruction at all,” he said. “We’re trying to do this safely. We’re trying to do it effectively. There are other districts that are opening on a hybrid plan and we are watching them very closely to see how successful they are.”
The district has a list of frequently asked questions about the resumption of the school year posted on the website at eawildcats.net.
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. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 29, 2020.