Derry Area School Board member Sean Kemmerer has been recently involved in a Senate bill that is expected to see a vote today.
On Tuesday, the state House Appropriations Committee inserted an emergency school code amendment into Senate Bill 751 because of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The bill is expected to be voted on today, March 25, and if approved by the House of Representatives, it will return to the state senate for a concurrence vote.
The amendments inserted into Senate Bill 751 address issues that only apply to the current school year for entities, including school districts, intermediate units, career and technology centers, cyber charter, charters, cyber charters and regional charters.
The bill would waive the 180-day requirement for all public and nonpublic schools and allow the secretary of education to close all school entities until the threat to health and safety caused by the pandemic has ended. It allows the secretary of education to increase the number of allowable fixable instruction days (FIDs) to a number determined by the secretary during the 2019-20 school year.
Other waivers by the secretary could include career and technical education program hours, performance data in the teacher evaluation system, pre-K counts hours, along with NIMS assessments and NOCTI exams.
The bill also states, regarding pay and PSERS credit for school employees employed as of March 13, that no school employee shall receive more or less compensation or credit because of school closures or a shortened year. Each school shall also provide any employee responsible for cleaning school facility with appropriate cleaning materials and protective clothing and gear as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Each school entity shall also provide written notice to the parent or guardian of each student who receives services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of the school’s plan for ensuring a free and appropriate education.
Each school shall also make a good faith effort to plan to offer continuity of education to students using alternative means during the period of closure.
Other areas of Senate Bill 751 note that a school entity, which was closed as a result of the pandemic may not receive less subsidy payments, reimbursements, allocations, tuition or other payment from the state department of education. Cyber charter schools receive tuition payments based on enrollment as of March 13.
Kemmerer hopes the district can begin online instruction by next week.
“We moved up the purchase of Google Chromebooks to (Tuesday) when they were originally scheduled for next school year in the high school for the one-to-one program,” he said.
In January, Derry Area officials outlined a one-to-one laptop proposal to order 600 Chromebooks for 580 students at the high school.
The district cost was expected to be $35,000 for a four-year lease and students would take the laptops home with them on a daily basis. After the lease is completed, the district is expected to offer graduating students an opportunity to buy their Chromebook.
“Teachers are scheduled for two instructional days Monday and Tuesday with online instruction hopefully happening right after that,” Kemmerer said.
The state department of education said on Tuesday it’s essential that schools revisit their continuity of education efforts, which is the overarching term for any educational practices that occur in the event of a prolonged school closure.
The state said that continuity of education can be achieved through a combination of planned instruction or enrichment and review. Planned instruction is formal teaching and learning similar to that which occurs in a classroom setting, while enrichment and review consists of informal activities that reinforce or extend students’ prior learning.
“We’ve got some challenges because about 20% of our families do not have home internet access,” Kemmerer said. “But we are working closely with (the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit) to try and identify areas to focus resources so that we have the best chance to offer some continuity of education.”
Kemmerer said the district waited for direction from the state before invoking a plan.
“We finally got direction from PDE to try and be as proactive as possible to make sure that we were serving all students,” Kemmerer said. “As frustrating as it is to have to wait for that direction, the superintendent did the right thing. This is an unprecedented challenge, and the fact that we may be up and teaching in any capacity next week is short of a miracle. These teachers are amazing.”
Derry Area has offered drive-through meal distribution service at Derry Area High School and is providing delivery service to four locations throughout the district from Monday through Friday.
A lunch for the current day and a breakfast for the next day is available throughout the duration of the school closure.
Drive-through service will be offered at the high school cafeteria entrance in the school’s rear parking lot from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Meal deliveries will be made Monday through Friday on the following schedule: 1116 Murtha Way from 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.; Holiday Acres at Scott Court by the playground from 11 to 11:30 a.m.; Derry Area Community Center from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and Dogwood Mobile Home Park on Earl Drive from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Delivery time frames are estimates and may require adjustments.
Those who can’t make it to one of the delivery sites or who have other specific questions should contact Derry Area food service director Gwen Kozar at 724-694-1401 ext. 1442 or by email at email@example.com.