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Williamsport Area School District presents health, safety plan with three options for fall reopening

Stating that it is the strong desire of the district to try to reopen schools in the fall for in-person instruction, Dr. Susan Bigger, assistant superintendent at the Williamsport Area School District, outlined for the board the processes necessary to make it happen Tuesday.

Bigger presented the health and safety plan required by the state’s department of education for board approval at their meeting held via ZOOM Monday night.

“I don’t know an educator that doesn’t want to be back in class with kids. That is our absolute strong desire to try to reopen for in person instruction,” Bigger said.

“We know that these months of students being out of school hasn’t been good for them and it hasn’t been good for us,” she added.

Having said that, she stressed that how and when schools reopen has to be done without compromising health.

The state departments of Education and Health, although they have provided

guidelines, have shifted the responsibility of how schools open to the local districts, she said.

“School districts must determine if classes resume in person at school buildings remotely or a combination of both options as a hybrid in-person or remote,” Bigger said.

The goal of the district’s health and safety plan is “to keep transmission as low as possible to safely continue our students’ education and school activities.”

Drawing from guidelines and resources from the departments of Education and Health as well as the CDC, the phased reopening of district schools would need to be flexible and adaptable, and could change depending on the public health conditions in the county. There is a possibility that the plans could cycle back and forth throughout the school year based on whether conditions improve or worsen.

The administration stressed that any changes would be communicated with families in the district.

The three educational phases for reopening, based on state, county and local health conditions, outlined in the plan were: in-person instruction, moderate transmission risk; hybrid alternate schedule, high transmission risk; and remote learning, critical transmission risk.

In-person instruction would include all students, five days a week, while the hybrid alternate would allow for an alternate schedule of two days a week in-person and three days a week remote learning. Under both phases, students and staff must meet social distancing and face covering requirements.

In the remote learning phase, all schools would close and extra-curricular activities would be canceled.

Bigger noted that remote learning comes when there is the highest risk for infection in the community and is usually communicated through state health officials and the governor. Provisions for student services such as school meal programs would continue under the remote learning phase.

In terms of social distancing, the plan states that the state health guidelines require students and teachers to maintain up to six feet of social distancing to the maximum extent feasible. If that cannot be maintained, face coverings must be worn.

Bigger explained that some classrooms in the district are able to accommodate the six-foot rule, but not all. Other areas that can comply are outdoor spaces, recess, physical education and gymnasiums. She noted that the high school has a plan for multiple spaces to be used for distributed lunch space.

One question that comes up often, according to Bigger, is if the district will require face coverings.

“Yes, in both the in-person and hybrid phase,” she said. “Anytime when six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained, face coverings are required.”

This would include when students are on school transportation, at bus stops, in all school vehicles, in hallways, common areas, libraries, lab spaces, performance areas and entering and exiting buildings, she clarified.

The district will provide one face covering per week per student. The types of face coverings approved are outlined in the health and safety plan.

In order to monitor the health of students prior to entering district school buildings, parents are asked to take their child’s temperature. The district will be mailing a packet to families with a thermometer and instructions for the protocols to be followed.

The plan also outlined the procedures to be followed in the event of someone contracting COVID-19, as well as protocols for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and ventilation.

An important aspect of the plan is the district’s desire that families have input regarding the phases, officials said.

“We’ll continue to really ramp up our communication out to our families,” said Dr. Timothy S. Bowers, district superintendent. He noted that parents need to participate in a survey that is going out, so that the district knows which option parents prefer.

“We really hope to hear from our families as to what option makes sense for you,” he said.

He added that it is important for parents to complete a separate survey for each child in the family.

“You may choose one option for a high school student, but you may want a different option if you have a fourth-grader in school,” he said.

The board passed the health and safety plan by a 9-0 vote.

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