The Shippensburg school board approved a revised Reopening Health and Safety Plan during a special meeting Monday that delays bringing students back to a face-to-face learning model until Jan. 28, 2021, as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the state, including in Franklin and Cumberland counties.

Board Secretary and Business Administrator Cristy Lentz read letters that were emailed to the administration from parents and families who are concerned with students going back to face-to-face in December. The board proposed earlier this month to begin bringing students back to face-to-face instruction beginning the first week of December. The district recently closed Grace B. Luhrs Elementary due to another staff member who tested positive for the virus, and two others who had to quarantine due to close contact with the staff member. The school will likely be closed until the end of November unless the district is forced to go all-virtual with the spike in cases across the commonwealth.

A letter from James D'Annibale read:

“Regardless of what you do with reopening, the online option ought to be synchronous with the same teacher as my kids have now. Those choosing safety should not have to do asynchronous or have to change teachers. My kids’ teachers have done a great job of building a relationship and making expectations clear. Why should my kid have to adjust to a whole new team of teachers or style of teaching or learning simply because we chose to keep her safe during a fall resurgence that was predicted by experts months ago? Now you might say, ‘James, how can we logistically open while allowing people to not change teachers if they choose safety?’ And the answer is that it is impossible and that is why giving in to the loud non educators demanding an impossible choice is wrong.”

A letter from Dr. Misty Knight read:

“I write to voice my concerns over the discussion regarding district responses to our current pandemic. As an educator, I believe in the value of face-to-face in-person classes. Online learning is no replacement for faculty-to-student and student-to-student interactions. That being said, the value of our children, teachers and staff members’ lives are not worth the risk of making a transition back to brick-and-mortar learning. You are well aware, I’m sure, that the number of COVID cases in Pennsylvania have skyrocketed 64 percent in the past week, according to The New York Times, Pennsylvania COVID map and case count as of Nov. 11. Why of all times would you even be talking about making this transition? Pressure from science deniers and fiscal reasons? I am certain that it isn’t because you don’t care about the lives of those in the SASD community. You all have families of your own. Many of you have or have had children and other family members in the district. You aren’t detached. You know this community and you know these people. Why even consider risking their lives? As much as I look forward to being back in the classroom with my students and my children look forward to being back in the classroom with their peers and faculties, I cannot advocate for anything other than a full quality virtual school option. Please support science and the well-being of our SASD community.”

A letter from Betty Dessants read:

“I am opposed to these changes to the COVID-19 protocols for the SASD. Given the current spike in COVID cases, particularly in Franklin County, where recent figures state a 12.3 positivity rate, among the highest in the state of PA, it would be dangerous to students and staff to allow face-to-face classes four days per week. The district should continue virtually.”

A letter from Tony Diehl read:

“I would like to add my name to the list of parents opposing returning to full-time in-person classes and would instead favor full-time online instruction. COVID cases are at an all-time high and rapidly increasing. Sending students back to full-time would be reckless and irresponsible. Being a school board member certainly comes with the obligation of making some tough decisions and in this particular case, they must consider the safety of students, teachers, staff and the greater community above all else. Listen to the experts, take a look at what’s happening to nearby school districts who chose the full-time in-person path already and ask yourself if you, in good conscience, could vote to put the entire community at risk.”

A letter from Mary Burnett read:

“Dear school board and school officials, I would like to thank you for your work on behalf of the children and community. As a parent of two children, I would like to respectfully request that you keep school in the format it has been running since September. My middle schooler is excelling virtually with the help of his SAMS teacher and my fourth grader is also doing very well as supported through his IEP at the Intermediate School. I have major concerns for our community if you bring all students back full-time during the middle of a serious global pandemic. COVID-19 is surging in Franklin and Cumberland counties. Please keep our children, teachers and staff safe. Do not be the district that loses one of our own due to the demands of few.”

During the meeting, Lentz also presented to the board the costs based on personnel requests that the district has when bringing additional students back into the buildings.

Positions that the board previously approved:

-- One special education teacher (SAIS)

-- Three custodial staffing upgrade PT to FT

-- One long-term substitute (grade 3 virtual)

-- Two long-term substitutes (grades 1 and 2, vacant)

“These positions could cost the district anywhere from about $750,000 to just shy of a million dollars for the personnel request,” she said.

“We also have some non-personnel requests in order to bring kids back face-to-face,” said Lentz. “We’re going to need to spend some money in classroom technology. In the current school year, we have spent just a little over $260,000 on cleaning, sanitizing and PPE supplies. We are projecting to spend for the remainder of 2020-21 of about $214,000 for a total of $475,000 this school year.”

“The district is currently applying for FEMA reimbursement for those expenditures,” she added. “If they’re deemed eligible costs, the district could receive up to 75 percent of those costs. So, if all of those expenditures would be allowable, we would get approximately $356,000 back.”

Lentz noted there are a lot of open positions, which means savings in the budget that could help toward the costs that would be spent during this school year. Those open positions are classroom assistants, and custodial, secretarial and professional.

“For our professional substitutes and our support staff substitutes, in order to be able to look at the data, I ended that as of the end of October,” she said.

Lentz noted, “According to our transportation director, based on our current structure with not running as many routes, that could be an additional savings to our budget of $400,000.”

“As you heard at our last board meeting, we are able to refinance one of our debt series and in our current fiscal year, that will be a savings of just over $28,000,” Lentz added.

The total estimated budget savings is $550,322.88.

Director Erica Burg asked how the $400,000 is a savings if the state provides funds for transportation.

Lentz noted, “What happens is you have your transportation expense and it’s based on the current fiscal year. We do get some money back from the state to help cover our transportation expenditures. However, in order for the state to pay us that money, it’s a year in arrears.”

Director Dr. Geno Torri asked what technologies are listed under classroom technology.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Suppo noted, “I’ll be honest, that is left vague to sort of give us some funds should we need them. Cameras are certainly one area that we’re looking to purchase for the classrooms in our middle school and high school should they be needed by the teachers. We are also looking at cases for the Chromebooks.”

Suppo then noted the most recent COVID-19 data for Cumberland and Franklin counties.

“There are two main factors that the Department of Education looks at when determining if they are going to move to that substantial level,” he said. “First is the incidence rate per 100,000 residents and then the PCR testing positivity rate.”

In Cumberland County, the incidence rate last week was 77.6 percent and is now 185.3 percent. The positivity rate last week was 5.2 percent and is now 9.2 percent.

For the Franklin County data, the incidence rate last week was 175 percent and is now 282.2 percent. The positivity rate last week was 12.3 percent and is now 15.1 percent.

“The Department of Education did, after two weeks, recommend that schools consider going to a virtual model,” Suppo said. “That’s a recommendation, it’s not a mandate. School districts can determine what they want to do.”

He added, “How this works is if a county is in that substantial level for one week, they give you a warning saying that if it goes to two weeks then they are going to make this recommendation, which is what happened in Franklin County. Going back to Cumberland County, last week was the first week that they were in substantial. I’m not seeing that that will go down significantly. I did have a phone call with the Department of Education and they do anticipate making that similar recommendation for Cumberland County by the end of this week.”

President Mark Buterbaugh asked Suppo to outline the recommendations for the closure matrix.

Suppo noted, “Level two, moderate spread, is full in-person instruction for all learners following key strategies and protocols and full-time online Halls-to-Home and S.A.V.E. students, as well. Level one would be full in-person instruction. Level three, substantial spread, is full-time distance learning. So, the moderate level is six to 100, the low level is five or less cases per 100,000 and then the greater than 100 cases per 100,000 would put you into that substantial level.”

Buterbaugh explained how other resources can affect the transition to in-person learning.

“Part of the purpose of pushing for this face-to-face four days a week was to get a face-to-face four-day week plan and that doesn’t mean we’re going to achieve it anytime soon,” he said. “The budget that you spelled out now tells this board what we need to make that work. But, I think it’s important to tell the public too that it’s not just the numbers that will drive those decisions. It’s also what we’re seeing in other school districts, such as Waynesboro Middle School and Greencastle. We’ve got to have the resources. Just because we have these positions and just because we need substitutes, doesn’t mean we’re going to get them. So, I just want to caution the public that even when the numbers dip to the point where OK we can be triggered back to four days a week, resources also speak to that and if we have several teaching positions that we need to fill in order to make this work, and we have no subs because we’re competing with all these other school districts, I think the public needs to understand that that is another section that impacts our ability to return to four days a week.”

Buterbaugh noted his concern for the students returning to in-person learning as COVID cases are rising significantly.

“I’m really not comfortable with the Dec. 7 date anymore, given the last week of data,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting until the end of the marking period. Some of the comments tonight were spot on. I think it’s well advised to do this after the holidays. I would prefer to change that date to Jan. 28, which is the start of the second semester.”

Director Dr. Nathan Goates agreed with Buterbaugh.

“I really think that’s a smart plan to move to Jan. 28,” he said. “With the rest of the health and safety plan, I definitely support the direction that it’s going. I think there are some issues with the cafeteria and how to do lunch that concerns me. I think that administration could work those issues out, but that’s where I see the biggest problem. Other than that, I am mostly OK, and I very much applaud this suggestion to move to the end of the marking period.”

Director Fred Scott made a motion to amend the reopening plan to change the date of face-to-face four days a week instruction to Jan. 28, 2021, for the beginning of the second semester.

The board’s vote to amend the plan was approved unanimously.

Director Dwayne Burt noted the level-three substantial spread for 100 cases per day per 100,000 on the opening matrix does not provide anything other than distance learning.

“At level two, you have the option of full in-person instruction for all learners or full-time online for Halls-to-Home,” he said. “I get that you can have full instruction. At level three, I don’t see any option for face-to-face learning.”

Suppo noted, “That’s a determination that each district has to make. If the board truly wants to stick to just those two numbers, then that’s what we’ll do as a district. And looking into next week, there’s a very good likelihood that we would have to go virtual, whereas our elementary students are currently attending on a hybrid schedule.”

Buterbaugh noted, “We are doing a hybrid schedule in the elementary program except for Grace B. Luhrs. Are we having difficulties doing that?”

“We’ve been very successful,” said Suppo. “Are there difficulties that arise? I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. You know from the reports, and it isn’t always student driven, it could be staff.”

Buterbaugh added, “Even if on Friday we find out we're substantial in Cumberland County, I wouldn’t want us to go back to full virtual in the elementary program if we’re not having difficulties in the elementary program. I think that’s much more significant academic regression for children that we really can’t afford it for.”

Burt added, “This is the plan to allow for full four days a week instruction. In level two it says full in-person instruction. If you’re able to still operate the school in level three, then it should also say that.”

Goates made a motion to amend the plan to revise level three to allow Kindergarten to Grade 5 the option of hybrid.

Buterbaugh noted, “I think that puts us back to where we’re at now.”

Vice President Charles Suders noted, “I’m looking at it as this plan isn’t ready if we’re changing it this much in one night.”

Torri agreed with Suders.

The board voted 6-3 to amend the plan to allow the current hybrid option for Kindergarten to Grade 5 for level three. Suders, Burt and Torri cast the three dissenting votes.

The board voted 7-2 to approve the revised Reopening Health and Safety Plan. Suders and Torri voted in opposition of the plan.

The district will continue to evaluate the situation. The school board is scheduled to meet again virtually at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7. More information on the upcoming meeting and the coronavirus can be found on the district’s website, www.shipk12.org.

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