Greater Latrobe School Board members approved several plans related to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including the district’s phased school opening health and safety plan, its continuity of education plan and an interscholastic athletic return to play plan, all for the 2020-21 school year.
The board authorized administrators to submit the plans to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and post publicly on the district website.
“I cannot stress enough that these plans are fluid,” District Superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert said. “They can change and be modified, as we continue to receive updates.”
Officials, on Tuesday, gave a six-page handout to a little more than 100 residents, spaced out and socially distant in the district’s senior high auditorium. Teppert said a survey was sent to parents and guardians soliciting opinions in a variety of topics, including in-person and online instruction, in addition to transportation, mask wearing and more.
“Our goal is to have our students back to a brick and mortar setting five days a week for all grade levels as long as our county remains in the green phase,” Teppert said. “The district reserves the right to move to a more restrictive action at any time should local circumstances dictate.”
According to the plan, teaching and learning may occur through face-to-face instruction in the brick and mortar setting if Westmoreland County remains in the green phase or returns to the yellow phase. Teaching and learning will occur through online instruction if the county returns to the red phase, as dictated by state government regulations.
“To sit here on June 30 and guarantee that we will be returning to school five days a week in a brick and mortar setting is impossible,” Teppert said. “That is our goal. But we must wait to make that decision closer to the start of the school year. If a surge of the virus dictates that we cannot return, another plan must be put into place.”
During the phased reopening, instruction may occur in-person, or through a combined hybrid online and in-person model. Students could also engage with pre-recorded video lessons, assignments and learning tasks, in addition to learning that happens in real-time, but not at the same physical location. Teachers will be available to assist small groups or individual students, answering questions and providing additional help. Social distancing guidelines, as well as other health and safety guidelines, will be followed.
“Within the next two weeks, building principals will reach out to share more detailed information regarding a hybrid model and plans for children to return to school,” Teppert said. “While it’s not our goal to return in hybrid form, we feel it’s necessary for families to have this information to plan accordingly.”
If a student or staff member displays symptoms of the virus, district officials strongly encourage testing at a medical facility and families or staff members to report results.
Laurie Golobish, Director of Pupil Services, said the district has plans for separate health rooms — sick and well — so students who need medication or other needs can report to a separate area than students suspected to be sick.
“We can’t mandate results are reported, but in looking out for the health, welfare and safety of the community, we strongly encourage positive tests reported to nurses, administrators or building principals,” Golobish said. “We would contact the health department, including the need to quarantine individuals, if necessary.”
In the green phase, classrooms will be arranged, so that social distancing is achieved to the maximum extent possible. Additionally, regular hand hygiene will be required of all staff and students. All students and staff must have a mask or face covering, but it will not be required to be worn during the school day. Masks may be worn at any time during the day at the discretion of the individual student or family, and they may be strongly encouraged in situations where social distancing is not possible, like hallways or other gathering areas during class changes. Masks may be required in certain situations, at the discretion of administrators, if health and safety of individuals is at risk.
Cafeterias will have a reduced number of students and elementary students will eat meals in classrooms, allowing for socialization, while still maintaining distancing. When possible, instruction for physical education classes and recess will be conducted outside and sharing of materials will be discouraged.
Families will have the opportunity to transport their own students, and students using district buses will be encouraged to sit with their household group to maintain social distancing. For families who choose to keep their students at home on a full-time basis, online instruction will be provided. Instruction will occur synchronous and asynchronously.
In the yellow phase, students will be divided into two equal groups. Group A will attend the physical brick and mortar setting on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B will attend on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be a full online instruction day, allowing for district maintenance to perform mid-week additional cleaning and sanitizing.
High-touch surfaces will be cleaned on a regular basis and household groups will be kept on the same schedule. Similar social distancing, hand hygiene and mask guidelines outlined in the green phase, in addition to transportation, cafeteria and sharing measures will also be followed.
Students with special learning needs, medical needs, limited English proficiency, or other educational needs can attend brick and mortar settings all four days. Students enrolled at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (EWCTC) will also have the option to attend the brick and mortar setting all four days in order to participate in hands-on instruction and work towards certification hours in their programs.
In the red phase, in addition to online instruction, teachers, counselors and nurses will be available at regularly scheduled times for instruction, social and emotional support. Students with special learning needs, medical needs, limited English proficiency, or other educational needs may meet with district teams to discuss individual learning plans.
Activities will be suspended, including field trips, classroom and school visitors, open house, assemblies, parties, parades, concerts, instructional programs from outside groups, PTO volunteer opportunities and more.
Regular attendance will be required of all students, as families will have the option to participate in the hybrid or full online instruction model.
“Our goal in all of this is to return to school five times a week in a brick and mortar setting and follow health and safety recommendations,” Teppert said. “There’s typically no school board meeting in July, but given the current situation, we’re holding a meeting on July 21 to review the most current information regarding a return to school.”
Athletic Director Mark Mears said that social distancing and staying in pods are key in the return to athletics plan.
“We met with all the coaching staffs and they have been clearly guided on disinfecting, staying in pods … you can’t share water bottles … things like that and our coaches are following the plan,” Mears said. “If we pod 15 football players, they can stay there all summer in one group. We practice in pods to protect the program, so we can keep moving and we only have to quarantine one group in the event of an outbreak. Everything has been put into place and we’re going to proceed as if we’re going to go.”
Directors passed a motion on Tuesday, calling for the General Assembly to provide critical support and mandate relief benefitting public schools and students. Greater Latrobe requested approval of a permanent mandate waiver program, which would enable districts to improve instructional programs, or operate in a more effective, efficient and economical manner.
Board members noted that unexpected closure of school buildings because of the pandemic forced districts to face unparalleled challenges. That includes stretching funding to meet the needs of students and families with meals, online educational programs, technical resources and other needs, in addition to operational bills, salaries, pensions and charter school tuition, among other items.
Directors also added that districts statewide face declining local revenue collection because of the pandemic, including anywhere from $1,711,730 to $2,043,478 at Greater Latrobe, and they must confront numerous challenges in order to safely re-open schools.
Also on Tuesday, directors granted authorization to advertise for bids for coronavirus-related custodial and medical supplies for the 2020-21 school year.
The board also approved a one-year contract renewal of an existing Excela Health athletic trainer services agreement between the district and Excela Health for the 2020-21 school year.