The Huntingdon Area School Board (HASB) decided Monday night the district’s four buildings will reopen Aug. 27 at 100% after an initial motion to have a phased reopening at 50% was defeated in a 4-5 vote.
Board members who voted against the 50% reopening included Dr. Dennis Plane, Denise Felton, Heather Fox, Debra Clark and Tammy Peterson, while board members voting in favor were Janice Metzgar, Susan Grainey, Lucinda Dell and Dr. Ronald Long.
District superintendent Fred Foster had issued a letter to parents, children and staff July 24 explaining the district was aiming for a 50% return Aug. 27, then gradually returning to 100%, with plans to assess the situation Sept. 10 and plan for a full return by Sept. 17.
Following the motion’s defeat, another motion was made for a full reopening, winning by a vote of 8-1, with Lucinda Dell dissenting.
Prior to both votes, Plane opened the discussion by explaining why he was not in favor of a phased reopening.
“Where things are right now, I would start off full time, so I’ll be voting against this. I don’t think we benefit that much from a phased restart. I think we need to start off full time and set the expectation consistent with our guidance from all sorts of folks,” he said.
Clark, who serves as the board’s vice president, was in full agreement with Plane.
“I don’t believe going half time is going to prevent anything when it comes to the virus,” she said.
Lucinda Dell disagreed.
“I think we can keep our people and staff safe more so by doing it that way than full time. I know masks are going to be an issue, there will be students refuse to wear them, and I’m not sure how far we want to take disciplinary measures with that. I think we should start out at 50% and hopefully within a month we can go to full time,” she said.
Board member Susan Grainey was of a similar mind.
“I, for one, would rather err on the side of caution rather than jump in with both feet,” she said.
Foster noted that even at 50%, the plan is to wear masks.
“If you can meet within a classroom the six foot space, which we cannot, that’s going to limit the number of folks. They’ll have to wear masks during the day,” he said. “Lunch is absolutely going to be the challenge in every building, regardless of what we’re in.”
Board member Denise Felton highlighted the fact that parents and students have alternatives to in-person instruction.
“I think we need to really get the kids who need to get back to school back to school on a full time schedule. If their parents aren’t comfortable with that, then there are other means of education,” she said.
Foster affirmed that if parents are uncomfortable with full-time in-person instruction their children can have full-time online instruction at home “either with us or any cyber school of choice.”
Also prior to the initial vote, board president Dr. Ronald Long called for unity, no matter the outcome.
“I will support whatever this board decides and as we go forward...This isn’t a time for division and politics, this is a time for our community to show everybody else that we can come together and we can make this work,” he said.
District director of education Kim Rieffannacht said that a new website will be up in the next week or so that will provide parents with procedures and daily processes related to school reopening that can be easily updated and organized. It will also provide general information and answers to frequently asked questions by other parents. An alert will be sent out to all families when it is online and the site will also be linked to the school district’s website.
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