Into the Unknown

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While many of its students, and parents, are likely familiar with one of the popular songs from Disney’s “Frozen II,” the Warren County School District is prepared to go “Into the Unknown,” when the 2020-2021 school year opens Tuesday, Sept. 1.

(Photo by Brian Hagberg. Eisenhower High School)

Questions still remain as students prepare to return to the classroom, in-person or virtually, but some of the answers will have to wait until the first few days or weeks have concluded.

“We have never, ever, ever, ever been through anything like what we’re going to do tomorrow,” WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said during the Personnel/Athletics & Co-Curricular Activities Committee meeting Monday, Aug. 31. “There are a lot of variables out there. We’re going to have to wait and see.”

One of those variables is the exact number of students who will be in classrooms when the bell rings.

The district asked parents to respond to a survey indicating their preference for one of three options for the school year. Option 1 was a return to traditional brick-and-mortar learning, Option 2 was to enroll in the district’s Virtual Academy and Option 3 was a hybrid of online and in-person instruction. While a majority of district parents responded, some did not. Others initially made a choice, only to later want to change.

“We didn’t sit back and wait, we engaged and called folks (who didn’t respond to the survey),” Stewart said. “We told them we assumed their student would be in the school. We’ve also been super understanding when people call (about changing options).

“I really don’t know how many kindergarten (students) are coming to WAEC tomorrow,” she continued. “When 500 people change their mind, it has implications we can’t control. There are going to be a lot of shifts. It’s going to be an interesting year.”

One thing that is in control for now, is staffing. The board approved 13 long-term substitutes during a special meeting Monday. Having these long-term subs in place allows the district to be more flexible with which teachers it can put in virtual learning environments.

“We’re very fortunate that we have people in the community, with the degrees that they have, to step out,” Director of Administrative Support Services Gary Weber said. “We have good people. We hope they stay with us long-term because we have good people filling those positions.”

Additionally, 33 involuntary transfers were approved. Though that sounds like an exceedingly high number, Weber said the transfers were worded that way for legal purposes.

“It’s contract language so those transfers can be undone at the end of the year,” he said.

A majority of the transfers were from a building to online, allowing those teachers who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 to continue teaching.

“One of my fears was if we didn’t have school, it would be because we didn’t have enough adults,” Stewart said. “It’s in our best interest to have those folks who are at-risk working in one capacity as opposed to not at all.”

Stewart also touched on the district’s response plan if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID. At this time, a single positive test won’t necessarily force a building to close.

“They (Pennsylvania Department of Health) are giving us some numbers,” she said. “They have recommendations for closure . . . and we have a lot of metrics in place. We could be looking at 30-some cases in a building before we would need to close the building.”

In response to a question about staff needing to take sick days if they have to quarantine following a positive test, Stewart said it’s possible a quarantined teacher might not have to miss any time at all.

“Quarantine doesn’t mean they can’t teach,” Stewart said. “If they’re feeling fine, we could possibly send kids to the gymnasium and they could teach virtually.”