For the first time Monday night, Mount Union Area School Board members heard a draft plan for what a new school year could look like in the district.
District pandemic coordinator Michelle Grove presented a 41-page document during the monthly workshop session and hopes to have the board approve it during the July 27 regular meeting. Once approved by the board, the plan must then be submitted to the state Department of Education.
“This plan is very fluid,” said Grove.
She created the plan with the assistance of a pandemic team, which garnered input through separate parent and staff surveys. The district also plans to hold community parent meetings in August. A total of 460 parent surveys were received, as well as 95 staff responses.
Grove said the majority of parents who responded said they don’t want their child to wear a mask all day, but that they want their children to come back to school and that they would prefer to take their child’s temperature at home.
“They’re wanting a normal life for their students and I think that’s what we need to try to provide,” she said.
Grove highlighted detailed plans for cleaning and sanitizing district buildings and buses, PPE and social distancing, but of most interest and/or concern to board members were plans for transporting students to and from school and the use of face masks and other PPE.
“Students will be required to wear a mask to board and ride the bus and that will be stated in a letter we send out to families,” said district superintendent Dr. Amy Smith. “If someone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they would have to transport their student to school. If you can’t maintain a six-foot distance, you must wear a mask. You can’t do that on the buses. The contractors don’t have extra buses or drivers.”
Board member Andrew Ketner asked if a student will denied transportation if he or she shows up without a mask.
“We don’t have a definite answer on that,” said Smith, noting a child may not be left at a bus stop if they are without a parent present. “We’ll have disposable masks on the bus. We’re allowing them on the bus as long as they have masks.”
Ketner also expressed concerns over parents agreeing to take their child’s temperature before boarding a bus or entering the school.
“So the parent is going to decide if the child is OK to go to school?” he asked.
Grove said if COVID-19 symptoms are observed once the student arrives at school, parents or guardians would be called to pick up the student.
The plan also includes the purchase of iPads and laptops to avoid sharing devices, electrostatic foggers to disinfect buses and buildings, hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer stations, disinfectant, masks and clear face shields for teachers.
“Have we been able to see the financial impact of this?” asked Ketner.
“So far, we’ve been using a lot of grant funding,” said Smith. “A little bit will probably come out of our budget.”
She noted the cost to buy one mask per student per day for a 180-day school year would cost the district $90,000.
“We’re going to have masks to cover a day or two, but we’re going to expect them to bring a mask with them, just like they would bring other materials,” said Smith.
District business manager Carole Kauffman told Ketner the district is being cautious with funds.
“We’ve really cut back on supplies and purchases going into the school year so we have a better pot of money to judge from,” she said. “We’re being really cautious on what we’re spending now because we know there are expenses we’re not able to gauge yet.”
Board member Brandee Dodd emphasized the need for remote learning options.
“I feel strongly that we must beef up our technical abilities,” she said. “We need to be able to Zoom into classrooms and homes, we need to make sure that’s an option and that it’s robust. We need to make sure it’s good enough if we need to go to that. This should be a practice time for that, so if that’s only option, our students get the best education from home, if that’s what we’re mandated to do.”
She encouraged the district to prepare now.
“We need to make sure what we experienced in March through May doesn’t happen again,” she said. “I want to strongly say that we owe it to our students, families and staff to make sure there’s an option to learn and teach in a way they feel comfortable.”
Ketner also asked about PIAA sports. Smith said PIAA guidelines are expected before the end of the month and that more information will be forthcoming.
The board will vote on the district’s health and safety plan at the Monday, July 27, meeting.
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