While Derry Area School District plans to resume classes in the fall, district officials remain unsure what the 2020-21 school year will entail — or just how much it will differ compared to instruction before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
At Thursday’s regular school board meeting, which was held in the high school audion but broadcast online to community members, Derry Area superintendent Eric Curry said it is the district’s current plan to “open in the fall.”
“However, all I can say in regards to that is we have no idea what that’s going to look like,” Curry said of the upcoming school year. “The state and the department of education put out some guidelines for reopening schools (this week) and I can say that we’re trying to digest what that means.”
Curry said many items still need addressed regarding a fall reopening plan: Teachers and students will be expected to continue social distancing practices, which he acknowledged may prove difficult in an elementary school classroom setting with 20-plus students required to stay at least 6 feet apart. He cited other potential challenges, such as having kindergartners wear face masks and students attempting to maintain distance while riding district school buses.
“There’s a lot of issues we have to resolve,” he said.
Curry plans to meet with the administration this month to formulate a reopening strategy. The district, he said, is also awaiting further guidance from the state department of education regarding the matter.
“We will make sure that our families are aware of what our plan is once it’s finalized,” he said. “I would anticipate that to be the end of July. I know that’s difficult for families who are trying to make plans, but we want to make sure we do this in the right and the most effective way that we can to meet the educational needs for our community.”
Additionally, Curry said parents will soon be receiving surveys from the district to elicit ideas regarding this fall’s online learning environment and to hear their thoughts about returning to school in the fall.
Curry also told the board that Monday’s social-distanced commencement ceremony at the high school was a smashing success. The district sent off graduating seniors with drive-thru diplomas, with many students arriving in vehicles that featured personalized photos, messages and plenty of Derry Area blue and gold.
“What a wonderful experience,” Curry said of the special event, which became a reality after health officials put coronavirus-related limits on large gatherings. “There was a lot of fear and trepidation on what would happen in light of (the coronavirus) and all of the social distancing requirements; up until Monday, I’m sure there were a lot of people who (thought) the actual graduation service wouldn’t look like it normally does.
“But I can say the feedback we’re receiving from our community and our graduates has been overwhelmingly positive. I want to thank (high school principal Casey) Long, our senior class advisors and maintenance staff ... the amount of time and effort it took to pull off what happened Monday was just extraordinary and that’s what makes me proud to be here at Derry.”
The event was so well received, some in the district believe Derry Area may have started a new tradition — and an exciting new way to honor its senior class.
“It was awesome,” school board president David Krinock said. “Everyone pulled together to make it happen.”
A virtual graduation ceremony is slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, via the Zoom online conferencing system. District officials said previously that the ceremony will be pre-recorded, and a link to view the virtual event will be shared prior to the date of the ceremony.
As part of the virtual graduation ceremonies, a universal cap throw — to be held at the homes of graduating seniors — is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 10.
District officials said previously that if stadium or auditorium use is feasible, depending on the state’s virus-related restrictions at the time, an in-person graduation at Derry Area is tentatively scheduled for July 23 (rain date of July 24).
Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting:
- The school board will look to adopt the district’s 2020-21 final budget during a special meeting on June 25. Last month, school directors adopted a tentative spending plan that includes a 2-mill hike in property taxes. A copy of the tentative budget is available for inspection on the district website.
- Athletic director Brett Miller said upgrades to the school’s football field is underway as grass was recently removed at the site. Over the next few weeks, new sod and a pair of goalposts will be installed, he added.
- Curry said the district officials will work to allow students to keep their school-issued laptops for this year’s summer reading program through Caldwell Memorial Library. The book drop is also available at Caldwell library, while board member Sean Kemmerer said he is looking to assist efforts to add curbside library options for students.
In other business, the board approved:
- Resignation of personal care assistant Lisa Powers, effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year;
- To change the status of Dale Hillis from an eight-hour high school midnight custodian to an eight-hour outdoor custodial position, effective June 8;
- To award permanent contracts to teachers Mark Curcio, Bethany Means and Danielle Rause, as each have completed three years of service with satisfactory ratings;
- Tyler Balega as a summer technology intern through the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board, at no cost to the district, pending receipt of all clearances and documentation;
- Cody Hardsock and Lucas Taylor (maintenance/custodial), and Anthony Gray and Justin Fallat (information technology);
- To authorize the administration to make application, agree to the terms of, and accepting funding for available local, state and federal grants for the 2020-21 school year;
- To re-enact these Act 511 taxes for the 2020-21 school year: Real estate transfer tax (0.5%), earned income tax (0.5%), per capita tax ($5) and local services tax ($5 for Derry Township, $10 for Derry and New Alexandria boroughs);
- To reappoint Act 511 tax collections and set salaries and commissions, beginning July 1, 2020, and terminating June 30, 2021, with the option to terminate with a 30-day written notice: Debra Zello, Derry Township, per capita tax (4%); Kristin Kozar, Derry Borough (4%); Margaret Graham, New Alexandria Borough ($1 per statement), and Berkheimer Associates, Derry Township, Derry Borough and New Alexandria local service tax (2.05%, current and delinquent), wage tax (1.42% for current and no charge for delinquent) and delinquent per capita tax (no cost);
- To approve a resolution for reenactment of the per capita tax in Section 679 of Pennsylvania School Board of 1949, as amended, for the 2020-21 school year to include individuals 18 years of age or older;
- To approve PSBA CM Regent Insurance with broker McDowell Associates of Greensburg for property, crime, inland marine, boiler and machinery, commercial library, automotive, umbrella, cyber enterprise risk management insurance, school board errors and omissions liability insurances for the period of July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, at a cost of $159,576. The cost the previous year was $116,654;
- To award student accident/school insurance for the 2020-21 school year to U.S. Fire insurance Company as recommended by McDowell Associates of Greensburg for high school and middle school varsity/junior varsity football and all other high middle school sports, band, majorettes, cheerleaders and field trip coverage for school-sponsored, school-supervised non-overnight field trips at a cost of $15,938. The cost is the same as the previous school year;
- A voluntary school insurance program for the 2020-21 school year with U.S. Fire Insurance Company as recommended by McDowell Associates of Greensburg for $28 for school time and $124 for 24-hour coverage for grades K-12;
- Crime bond for the 2020-21 school year with selective insurance company as recommended by McDowell Associates of Greensburg at a cost of $250. The rate is the same as the previous school year;
- Application to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for flexible instruction days for the 2020-21 school year;
- Adelphoi Partial ESY/Summer Program;
- Special education agreements with Clelian Heights and Merakey for the 2020-21 school year;
- Budgetary transfers;
- Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency grant program expenditures;
- Worksite agreement with the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland-Fayette Inc.