The Shippensburg Area School District administration recommended adding 4th and 5th graders to the hybrid learning schedule, beginning Oct. 5, at Monday’s school board meeting.
The school board also heard a presentation from each school’s principal regarding a successful first week of school last week during the meeting.
Prior to the presentation, Business Administrator Cristy Lentz read emailed comments from parent Sarah Lachiatto during the first public comment portion of the meeting.
“I am speaking to you tonight to express my concern and disappointment with the hybrid schedule. Students in grades K-3 are receiving half of an education. The amount of work they are getting can be done before lunch. How are they going to get a whole year’s worth of work in?”
Lachiatto said the burden is falling on untrained parents to teach our children, who require support to access the content they are being asked to use in the virtual format. She also noted having the electronic devices in people’s homes is an invasion of privacy with microphones that cannot be disabled on the devices. She also was concerned that a teacher was asking students about a video on the social media platform, TikTok. She noted she does not permit her children to view videos on apps that they can access inappropriate content on.
She also said childcare can be very expensive, and asked why it is OK for children to be in daycare but it is not safe for them to be in school. She noted if school facilities are not being used for their purpose, taxpayers should receive tax rebates.
She also said parents are not school teachers, and are not properly trained to teach at home, and it’s time to let teachers do their jobs properly. She also said there is a minute chance of contracting a virus that “causes no more risk to a healthy immune system than the flu” does. She asked what specific data is being used to make the decision to keep students out of school.
Following the presentation by the district’s principals, Superintendent Dr. Chris Suppo recommended bringing 4th and 5th graders in on an A-B schedule, which is what current K-3 students are doing. The hybrid schedule has students in school a few days a week, and completing their work virtually from home the remaining days of the week.
Suppo and the board commended the district’s administration, staff and teachers for the hard work they have put in over the past several months to prepare for the beginning of the school year, which was pushed back to Sept. 8.
He added he feels with all of the preparation that it is safe to start bringing in more students at the Shippensburg Area Intermediate School and Grace B. Luhrs Elementary School.
After his recommendation, Director Dwayne Burt motioned to bring the 4th and 5th graders back on Oct. 5, then phase in the middle school two weeks later, and then the high school two weeks after that.
Director Erica Burg said she had no problem bringing students back to SAIS and GBLUES, but was hesitant to approve a phased plan for the middle school and high school because of the different schedules the secondary levels have. She also noted the teachers will be teaching both students in person and virtually who choose to remain in the Halls to Home program.
Director Fred Scott asked if the district has the staffing to handle the workload at the secondary and intermediate levels.
Suppo said the administration does have some staffing concerns with the intermediate school, but hope to have that resolved by Oct. 5. He recommended pushing back the start of a hybrid schedule at the secondary level to the beginning of November to give teachers more time to master teaching students both in person and virtually.
“It’s more of an issue of teachers teaching two populations -- kids who are in front of them at school and those at home,” Suppo added.
After discussion, Burt amended his motion to begin a hybrid model for 4th and 5th graders on Oct. 5, and middle school and high school on Nov. 9, and amend the health and safety plans at each school. The motion was seconded by Vice President Charlie Suders.
President Mark Buterbaugh said he appreciated the recommendation because he is concerned about students falling behind.
The motion was passed unanimously.
Mrs. Garner from GBLUES said the week before school started, she and the teachers made special deliveries of virtual learning kits that were all bought or donated by the PTO and families. “It was great to see the students smile, and it was worth every mile that we drove.”
Garner said the Shippensburg University education students lined their drop-off circle to cheer the students on as they entered school on the first day. They are also working hard to spread kindness and not germs. The school staff is taking temperatures, and encouraging hand-washing.
She said they have received very positive responses from virtual families, and have nearly 100 percent attendance.
“Kids and teachers are thrilled to be back in school, and are so happy to be back together again,” she said.
Mr. Flohr of James Burd and Mrs. Martin of Nancy Grayson spoke next, echoing Garner’s sentiments on a successful first week.
“The students have done an amazing job at adjusting to new routines and parents have been patient with us,” Flohr said. “Everyone is taking time to make sure they are keeping everyone safe.”
Martin said she asked teachers to give her one word to describe the first week of school.
“Some of them were different, interesting, a blessing, surprised. Surprised- I heard that word over and over again. They were surprised at how well everything was going. A lot came in with the idea that this was not going to go well. We had our routines down, and we knew what we were doing. Some felt overwhelmed because there is a lot to remember, especially with all of the social distancing rules in place. It was interesting to see how each adult and child came into the building, and faced these challenges.”
One teacher noted it was disheartening because they couldn’t give students hugs or high-fives. Many said it was an awesome week. Martin said their staff has done an awesome job in preparing for the start of school in these unprecedented times.
Mrs. Mowery of Shippensburg Area Intermediate School also echoed that it was a successful first week. Most of SAIS is doing virtual learning right now, and noted special education students were met with a different school opening since the building is so empty. But, she noted they are getting used to the routine, and gaining some normalcy.
She added they start every day with Zoom class meetings to build relationships with students to allow them to be comfortable to ask questions and ask for help. Teachers also have spent time sharing proper online classroom etiquette with students to help them with taking turns and raising their hands.
Mrs. Benbo of Shippensburg Area Middle School said their drive-through open houses went smoothly despite pouring rain.
She added special education students were also met with empty hallways at SAMS last week, and are getting used to the new normal.
“We had a great start. The parents I talked to had positive feedback,” she said. “If students had issues logging on, they worked with students one-on-one until they were all on.”
She added students are becoming more engaged with virtual learning.
Mrs. Luffy of Shippensburg Area Senior High School said the staff filled more than 1,000 bags for students with a variety of needed materials they would need to start the school year at home.
She noted there were only 47 students in the building last week, as opposed to the typical 1,100.
“It’s a strange feeling to walk down the hall and not hear the rush of students,” she said. “But, we are social distancing and all wearing masks. We are going over routines, and the students are assigned spots to eat lunch and remain distanced in the hallways. This is kind of chilling. It doesn’t feel like school. You hear the teachers, and they are building the relationships, but it’s not the same. But, our teachers are interested in providing the best education possible for our students, whether in person or virtually.”
Suppo thanked all staff for playing an integral part in making the start of the school year very successful.