Task forces will plan for school reopening

Shawn Hardy

What school will look like when it reopens in the fall has been on the minds of administrators since the Greencastle-Antrim School District closed its doors in March on the orders of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to curb the spread of COVID-19.

District leaders can now really start to plan for the 2020-21 school year with guidance issued last week by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Reopening schools is one of the topics discussed at administrative team meetings held at least twice a week, according to Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent. Dr. Lura Hanks, who will succeed Trail as superintendent on July 1, also has been involved in some of the discussion.

A task force approach is being developed and can now move ahead, based on the preliminary state guidelines.

There will be a task force for each of the four schools in the district and those groups will sometimes come together as a larger K-12 task force. The first meeting of the entire group is planned June 18.

The task forces will include building administration, special education administration, teachers, parents, students, custodial staff and representatives of health, transportation and food services, Trail said.

*** State guidance ***

The department of education said elementary and secondary schools may resume in-person instruction and activities beginning July 1 under a phased reopening approach. Schools must first develop health and safety plans based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“The Wolf administration remains committed to the safety and welfare of students, faculty and staff, and any reopening plan must be rooted in these principles,” said Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera. “As school leaders resume instruction in the 2020-21 school year, the department recognizes the need for preliminary guidance to aid in planning for a return to in-person instruction, delivery of services and resumption of extracurricular activities.”

"Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, the preliminary guidance serves as a starting point for school leaders to consider in reopening preparations, and it will continue to evolve as further research, data and resources become available," said a news release from PDE. "Later this month, PDE will release additional guidance that outlines steps for school openings while addressing safe operations, teaching and learning and student wellness – with attention to equity throughout."

School districts are tasked with first developing a health and safety plan, which will serve as a local guideline for school opening activities. The plan should be tailored to the unique needs of each school and reflect a comprehensive, community approach created in consultation with local health agencies.

Plans must include identifying a pandemic coordinator or team to lead response efforts; steps to protect high-risk children and staff; processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms; guidelines for hygiene practices; processes for cleaning and disinfecting; guidelines for the use of face masks; protocols for social distancing; and procedures for restricting large gatherings.

The plan must be approved by the school board and posted on the school district website before a school reopens. The plan must also be submitted to PDE.

“Educators, students and caregivers have done a remarkable job as we all navigate through this pandemic,” Rivera said. “Now we need to direct our energy to focus on how to resume instruction in the 2020-21 school year. We fully expect students to return to classrooms in some capacity and are confident that schools will use this guidance to build a framework that best meets the unique needs of their students and communities.” 

PDE guidance also includes postsecondary schools — colleges, universities, seminaries, trade schools and adult basic education programs — effective June 5, following the development of health and safety plans, including physical distancing guidelines and other health and safety considerations based on guidelines released by the CDC and DOH.