Despite the concerns expressed by its health and safety experts, the Gettysburg Area School District (GASD) board of directors approved the opening of its three elementary schools on Wednesday evening on a schedule that requires students to sit in class four days a week and only three days old will be feet apart and wear face masks.
The vote was 7-2, with board members Carrie Soliday and Kathleen Pratt voting against the plan.
The board rejected another plan, presented to them on Monday, in which elementary school children were only present two days a week so they could keep a distance of two meters during the school day.
Before the vote, the deputy headmistress Dr. Christine Lay, the four days a week schedule is not the district's preferred schedule.
According to Lay, the average class size in elementary schools was 21 with a range of 17 to 29 students.
Lay said she spoke to elementary school principals who thought the two-day-a-week plan presented Monday was "the safest plan for students and staff to re-enter schools".
Lay said "many, many resources were considered in developing the Monday plan". "We were told that the board would not support a plan that would require students to wear masks all day. So we came up with a plan that would allow our students to be six feet apart and safe."
“We were instructed Monday afternoon that this plan would no longer be supported (by the board). And so we came up with our plan and we stick to our plan, ”said Lay.
“I worked with our team because we needed an approved plan. We will adhere to this plan and can implement this plan for our students and staff when we know that students and families who wear masks will meet the requirements, ”said Lay.
"This is still a disturbing conversation with teachers and administrators about how much we can enforce this and how much it will affect our teaching, our day and our discipline." But if this is the plan the board is happy to approve, we can be fine with it as long as we have support in making it meet safety guidelines, ”said Lay. “In primary school, they won't be two meters apart. We made compromises when asked. "
The board members thanked the district for their work on the plan.
The board members who voted for the four-day plan said they felt it could better align the needs of the school with the needs of the community.
Board President Kenneth Hassinger said he was "confident that the administration will come to the board if there is a problem and that the board will carefully change what needs to be done to ensure that students and staff are safe and successful."
The board unanimously voted to change the 2020-2021 school opening date to August 31 to give the district more time to prepare. The teachers will report on August 17th.
Middle school students follow a mixed model two days a week, staying in the same classroom all day and eating in the cafeteria.
Students also have a mixed model but switch classrooms during the day.
The district said teachers would prepare for an all-remote learning environment on Fridays, which may be required if schools have to close their personal activities. The day off also gives the supervisory staff time for a thorough cleaning.
Parents have three options for their children:
The personal plan
An online curriculum taught by GASD teachers
An online curriculum with the Gettysburg Area Virtual Academy taught by external teachers.
According to Lusk, students who choose one of the online options will still be able to access athletic and other after-school activities.
The plan will be revised at the end of the first quarter.
When asked if the extracurricular activities would continue, Lusk said, "We plan to offer as many outside activities as possible."
Perrin said the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Department of Health had established guidelines on what the district should do if a child fell ill. "They will make recommendations."
Charles Stangor is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Gettysburg News.