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Parents protesting masks appeal to Greater Latrobe board again

Little has changed with regards to the masking order from the state Department of Health, but that didn’t stop a small contingency of parents from once again voicing their frustration to members of the Greater Latrobe School Board Tuesday night at its regular meeting.

One parent even went as far as accusing Superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert of “walking away” from the district because of the situation.

“Unfortunately, we can’t just throw in the towel like Miss Teppert. We can’t walk away from this,” Jamie Piper said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

After her comment, Piper added that she meant no disrespect, but simply believes that the pandemic is a factor in her decision to retire. Piper said she does believe Teppert did everything in her power, and added she appreciates all that Teppert has done.

“I’m not walking away from anything,” Teppert shot back.

Many of the parents said they aren’t trying to argue with school board members and just want the school board members “on their side” and want them to join parents in fighting the order.

However, Assistant Superintendent Michael Porembka reiterated that the school district’s hands are tied by the order and the parents really should be taking up their cause with the state via their elected officials or by arranging a protest in Harrisburg.

“Your argument is with the state. They’ve stuck us right in the middle of this. We have an order from the Department of Health. I know you all don’t want us to follow it but we have to,” said Porembka.

He added that it’s concerning that parents continue to focus on the negative when there are so many positives going on in the district now.

One of those positives Porembka was referring to included Greater Latrobe Partners in Education Foundation’s (GLPIEF) announcement of $157,000 in grants through donations from students, parents, teachers, staff, alumni and the community. These latest grants bring the GLPIEF’s total to over $6 million in their 10 years of existence.

Teppert pointed out that parents are also forgetting what the school district and the board were able to accomplish over the past 19 months in the midst of the pandemic.

Parents reiterated their preference to make the choice for their children, but while Porembka and the rest of the board understand their stance, it’s just not possible.

“I understand what you’re saying. You want to make the choice for your child. I would love to make that choice for my child too, but I have an order that I have to follow from the Department of Health,” said Porembka, a parent himself.

School board member Dr. Michael Zorch admitted, as a physician, that he never supported making masks optional at the beginning of the school year, a policy that only lasted a week because of the state order.

He said masks keep kids in school, and that is what is best for the students.

“For right now, I think the best thing we can do is having our kids wear masks in school so they can be in school,” said Zorch, who has been an outspoken supporter of wearing masks in school.

District solicitor Ned Nakles, who has been monitoring legal challenges to the mask order, said he has seen nothing come out of any court case that would have an impact and he recommends the board continue to follow the state’s order.

According to Nakles, there’s been no ruling in the case lodged by several school districts in Commonwealth Court. Several other cases that have been heard in federal court haven’t gone the parent’s way either.

If any court cases would allow Nakles to amend his recommendation, he said he would revisit it at a future date.

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Latrobe Municipal Authority projects moving forward

Progress is being made on a 4.3-million gallon equalization tank project aiming to prevent sewage overflows into the Loyalhanna Creek, engineer Mark Gera of Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. told the Latrobe Municipal Authority (LMA) board at its meeting Tuesday.

Gera said West Penn Power is working to get power to the tank site, while the project contractor is moving forward with backfill work, with fencing installation to follow.

Other work tied to the Monastery Run interceptor recently received a permit, Gera said. The interceptor project calls for increasing the size of pipes of a roughly 900-foot stretch of sewer line, in addition to constructing several new manholes from Monastery Run to Lloyd Avenue Extension.

LMA Manager Terri Hauser said a bid opening for the interceptor-related project is scheduled for Nov. 4. Both the equalization tank and interceptor projects are part of the final segment of the Act 537 consent order agreement.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting:

  • Hauser said the authority will provide water and wastewater draft budgets to board members next month, with the expectation of approving the budget at December’s meeting;
  • The board approved wastewater department capital payments of $77,760 to Kukurin Contracting for a bar screen replacement project and payments totaling $4,400.50 to Gibson-Thomas for bar screen replacement work, interceptor stabilization repairs and a corrective action plan;
  • The board approved wastewater department construction payments of $130,625 for equalization tank work, $22,017.50 to Gibson-Thomas for equalization tank work, and a total of $1,581.30 to Meyer Darragh related to equalization tank and Monestary Run projects;
  • An invoice of $2,257.30 to solicitor Lee Demosky related to wastewater department business;
  • The board held an executive session regarding litigation.

David Vitula running for Unity Twp. tax collector

David Vitula is vying for a four-year term as Unity Township tax collector in the Nov. 2 general election.

Vitula, a Democrat who previously ran for a spot on the Greater Latrobe School Board, is hoping to replace longtime township tax collector Mark Burkardt, a Republican.

In his campaign announcement, Vitula said he will “donate 10% of my salary to charity, as I am aware of many people struggling to make ends meet, starting with the food bank and other charities residents may find near and dear to their hearts, aiming and helping struggling families.”

Vitula earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in finance from St. Vincent College, a master’s degree in administrative and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh, and his teaching certificate from Seton Hill University.

Vitula has taught various finance and business classes at Plum High School for the past 23 years, including accounting, finance/business law, marketing, global business and computer/information technology.

He has also worked for the Department of the Navy as an accountant.

A lifelong Unity Township resident, Vitula is married with two daughters in college and a son in high school.

He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.

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Fall, Christmas, food highlight St. Emma three-day event

An early bird special on Thursday, Oct. 21, kicks off the three-day Fall and Christmas Sale at St. Emma Monastery in Hempfield Township.

Between 3 and 5 p.m., guests can get first dibs on rooms full of merchandise and also purchase the same foods (except the hot foods) that will also be available the next two days.

There’s a $5 admission for adults on Thursday, but none for Friday and Saturday, with both days open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be a 50% off sale on most items on Saturday.

The event is a reinvention of popular fundraisers that the Sisters of St. Benedict had to cancel or redesign because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of the annual flea market, when things started opening up again they scaled that down to smaller events and also held a food fair with comfort food. That is, Mother Mary Anne Noll said, “You could take it home and eat it in the comfort of your own home.”

The annual Christmas shop also had to be canceled last year.

Now this week’s event combines food and merchandise and the Christmas shop, and also a nod to autumn, Thanksgiving and even Easter-themed items.

The sign along the road calls it the “Fleas and Food” event, but the displays and quality of merchandise don’t look anything like a flea market. Rather, the items are all high quality and suitable for gifting or decking out a home for the holidays.

“Can you believe that people donate all these wonderful things?” Mother Mary Anne said on a tour of the lobby, dining and meeting rooms where volunteers have perfected the art of display.

There are several tables of pumpkins, scarecrows, turkeys and all kinds of decorations for autumn and Thanksgiving. Another table holds rabbits, spring and Easter items.

Christmas dominates in every space. There are ornaments, snowmen, countless Santa Claus figures, snow globes, music boxes, miniature village pieces, and decorations for shelves, walls and on the tree. Plus there are artificial Christmas trees for sale, and several of them are fully decorated. One has a theme of red and gold ornaments.

One table has fancy bakeware for holiday cooking, like oven dishes, muffin tins, and character baking pans, for instance, one in the shape of Santa’s face. Another has fancy trays, bowls and serving ware for holiday dining and parties. Several tables are spread with jewelry and watches.

“If it exists, we probably have one of each,” Mother Mary Anne said about the variety of their offerings.

The basket raffles go way beyond baskets. Yes, there actual themed baskets of food or gifts, and each one includes either cash or a gift card. Then there are prizes that won’t fit in a basket. One collection has a full size nursery rocker/glider with matching gliding ottoman, plus lots of baby items and a large framed print of Santa with little children. Another is a three-tiered shelf with Christmas decorations. There’s also a tall figure of Santa Claus with some other decorations to go with it.

The sisters and volunteers put together a wall full of mystery boxes and bags priced from $5 to $30, with the contents guaranteed to be worth two or three times that amount. The $5 ones include bags marked for boys or girls.

“We also have mystery envelopes,” Mother Mary Anne said. “You put in any amount of money from $1 to $20, and if your envelope is pulled, you get back ten times that amount.”

Now for the food.

Hot items can be eaten on the patio or taken home. There’s pizza including their famous mushroom and spinach version, sweet banana peppers stuffed with sausage, pierogis, chili, hot dogs, hamburgers and haluski. For the freezer, volunteers made varieties of pasta sauces and 116 quarts of wedding soup.

Other volunteers made 200 loaves of pumpkin bread and cranberry bread, 80 loaves of zucchini bread and banana bread, cookies, fruit turnovers, and trays of festively decorated chocolate dipped pretzel sticks.

The fundraisers couldn’t happen without the army of dedicated volunteers.

“There are 12 volunteers from out of state who are coming to stay overnight,” Mother Mary Anne said. “How blessed we are, and that’s what makes everything so special. People come and say that they can see the love and the care here in everything we do. St. Benedict said we should treat the tools of the monastery as sacred vessels. Whatever we are doing, that’s our sacred vessel at the moment and we treat it with that kind of reverence. This is something much bigger than us. Our volunteers have caught all of what St. Benedict said about welcoming guests as Christ.”

Guests can also visit the two chapels and the shrines on the monastery grounds. The Treasure Shoppe and gift and book store will be open, too.

“We’ll have a priest here for confessions from 1 to 3:30 on Friday and 11:30 to 2:30 on Saturday,” Mother Mary Anne said. “It’s something we offer that makes our event special. Who else would have such an interesting event?”

St. Emma Monastery is located at 1001 Harvey Ave. (Route 819) north of Greensburg. Info: Guests are asked to wear masks inside the buildings.