Ligonier Valley School District is planning to welcome its youngest learners back into a brick-and-mortar instructional setting on at least a part-time basis beginning next week, superintendent Dr. Christine Oldham told the district’s school board Monday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education and the state health department last week revised recommendations regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) community transmission rate instructional models.

Previously, districts in counties with a “substantial” rate of community transmission were recommended to operate under a full-remote instructional model for all students.

Last week, state officials walked back that recommendation, suggesting school districts allow elementary students to return to a “blended learning model” regardless of their county’s community transmission rate.

The recommendation change does not apply to secondary students.

State officials said elementary-aged students benefit greatly from face-to-face instruction, while state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine cited new research in which children younger than ages 10 to 14 have a lower chance of contracting the virus.

For Ligonier Valley, learners at Laurel Valley Elementary and R.K. Mellon Elementary, as well as sixth-graders at Ligonier Valley Middle School, will return to the classroom under the district’s hybrid model beginning Thursday, Jan. 21, under revisions to the district’s school reopening learning plan approved Monday by the school board.

On that day, the Thursday/Friday group of pre-K through sixth-grade learners will return to classrooms for their first day of in-person instruction since October while the Monday/Tuesday group will learn remotely. Learners in the Monday/Tuesday group will have their first in-person instruction starting Monday, Jan. 25. Wednesdays will remain full-remote for all learners, and parents can opt to have their children remain in the full-remote model rather than returning for in-person instruction.

Positive coronavirus cases among learners or staff could still require the district to close school buildings or keep certain classrooms closed under its COVID-19 protocols, Oldham and district pandemic coordinator Ed Moran noted.

“There’s still guidance pertaining to number of cases within a particular building and number of cases overall within the school district,” Moran said. “We’re going to be closely monitoring those numbers and we may be sending an alert or e-mail that maybe a first-grade class can’t come in for a certain amount of days because of a positive COVID case.”

“There is the potential that we’re going to experience some disruption, kind of like ongoing snow days,” Oldham said. “If we get a case where a building needs to be closed, it’s a three- to 14-day closure. We’re going to be very careful to follow the recommendations that go along with that. It’s just something that everybody needs to be prepared for.”

The district is also working on a way to offer four days a week of in-person instruction for sixth-graders and its “wee ones,” in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, Oldham said.

“We want to get our elementary kids back into hybrid and then we’ll be getting the information out for parents so they can determine if they want to take advantage of the four-day option or if they want to maintain the two-day option,” Oldham said.

The instructional model for learners in grades 7-12 will remain full-remote until Westmoreland County’s community transmission rate falls into the “moderate” category — through at least Jan. 22. The county’s community transmission rate must be in the “moderate” category for at least two weeks before the district’s learners in grades 7-12 return to in-person classes under the recommendations from the state’s health and education departments.

In anticipation of an eventual return to the hybrid model for all students, the district is ironing out details of a plan to provide “Remote Day Community Pods” to allow learners to receive remote instruction at locations within the community on days when they aren’t scheduled to attend school in-person.

The school board on Monday approved for the administration to initiate a “Remote Day Community Pod Facility Use Agreement” with any locations in the community that will serve as one of the “pods” where a limited number of learners can gather for online instruction while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

One location has already committed to serving as a community pod, Oldham said, and the district is in conversation to have community pods in four other locations.

“We’re trying to find the population centers where folks can get to them throughout the district,” Oldham said. “We do want to target some of those folks that have internet issues.”

The board also approved contracting with Ignite Education Solutions to provide monitors for the Remote Day Community Pods. Oldham said the agreement calls for the district to pay the company about $425 per day to provide an individual to monitor the learners at a community pod in conjunction with district staff.

In other business, the school board approved:

  • Entering a three-year contract with O.Z. Enterprises LLC for Direct Digital Control preventive maintenance for the district’s energy management system at a yearly cost of $5,360;
  • Donating the district’s 1997 Chevrolet cutaway van to the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center;
  • Retroactively for Corey Turcheck to submit a Ligonier Valley High School Woodshop grant application to the Ligonier Valley School District Foundation Inc. seeking $1,480.01;
  • For Ignite Education Solutions to provide a Cognitive Behavioral Interventions for Trauma in Schools program to interested learners in grades 5-12 at no cost to the district;
  • For assistant principal Rachel Kurdziel to enroll in two courses at California University of Pennsylvania in the spring 2021 session in accordance with the district’s Administrative Salary and Fringe Benefit Schedule;
  • Accepting retroactively the resignation of Ligonier Valley Middle School cook Christy Spirk, effective Dec. 29, 2020;
  • Extending the Family First Coronavirus Response Act on a monthly basis through March 31, 2021;
  • Retroactively for home-schooled learner Abel Mundorff to participate in the Ligonier Valley High School wrestling program for the 2020-21 school year at a participation rate of $75, in accordance with district policy;
  • Dale Show and Sandy Crumrine as girls’ track and field program volunteers for the 2020-21 school year, pending required paperwork;
  • Appointing Josh Suszek as head boys’ track and field coach for the 2020-21 school year at a supplemental salary of $4,563, pending required paperwork;
  • A third temporary memorandum of understanding with Lodestar Bus Lines for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year;
  • Final approval of revised policies regarding organization chart, nondiscrimination of learners with disabilities, admission of learners and learner records;
  • Tentative and final approval of revised policies regarding sexual harassment of learners and staff;
  • Tentative approval of a revised policy regarding discipline of learners convicted or adjudicated of sexual assault;
  • Revised administrative procedures regarding discrimination or Title IX sexual harassment affecting learners and staff.

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