RUSSELL, Pa. – What started as a look into how students who have been denied entry to the classroom receive instruction turned into a 2-hour discussion about how the Warren County School District can “take back education” Monday night.
While no decisive action was taken during the Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee meeting, board members tasked WCSD administration with providing options on potential changes to the quarantine process by the next full board meeting on Nov. 8.
“I think it’s incumbent upon administration now to see if there’s an option four, see if there’s an option five,” Board member Joe Colosimo said. “Because we’re not only quarantining kids and telling them not to come to school, and when we do that to them it’s different than if they’re sick with a bellyache or the flu and they choose not to come to school. We’re telling them, ‘You are not permitted to come to school.’ And, and we’re also putting them in auditoriums when teachers are sick, and we don’t have coverage, and so they’re not getting their education plans, the way they would like it, or the parents would like it.”
“And so right, wrong or indifferent, there is an issue,” he continued. “I have no answer. I really don’t, if I did I would wave my magic wand and say this is an answer and so I would just simply ask maybe as administrators if you guys could get together and see if there’s an option four or five to somehow make sure that if we tell them. One, you’re not permitted in school or two, you got to go to the auditorium because we don’t have the staffing, make sure they don’t fall behind.”
Multiple board members expressed concern over the current assignment policy for students who are denied entry to the classroom. Particularly the lack of dedicated instruction time from their regular teachers and that the district was putting the onus on the students to go find their assignments rather than the work being provided to them.
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Eric Mineweaser explained that when a student is denied entry, they are given a letter detailing the process of accessing their assignments virtually as well as a list of teachers available at certain times to answer questions.
“I feel like we’re sending a packet home and saying here, have at it and figure it out on your own,” Zariczny said. “And I hope you pass and turn in your assignments and that’s what it sounded like to me. I didn’t get a real feel that we are as a district, providing the instruction in that whole dialogue.”
Mineweaser said both students and teachers have access to teams, which would allow for dialogue and the potential for students to listen to lessons.
“If it’s math class, and they wanted that additional assistance and they could at least get on to their team, get on to the live chat and be able to see the clear touch TV as well as hear the teacher at least doing the lesson as the student is at home,” Mineweaser said.
“Is it incumbent upon the student to find a way to figure out what their assignments are, or is it incumbent upon the school district,” Colosimo asked. “If we’re the ones that told them hey, we’re not letting you in the school because XYZ, is it incumbent upon us to make sure they have access to their assignments, whether it be hardcopy electronically, live, whatever?
“We just went through a year where we had 100 percent electronic education and delivered it and we promote our education,” he added. “And so I got to believe it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that these kids have their assignments and not incumbent upon them to try to figure out the right way to find it.”
Reducing Days Missed
Soon, the focus shifted from making sure those students were provided quality instruction to reducing the amount of time they had to be out of the classroom.
WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said one of the reasons the quarantine, or denied entry, issue has been so problematic this year is the number of COVID circumstances the district has already faced.
“Last year in total, we handled 436 what we call cases throughout the entire school year, where we were dealing with a situation where parents are ill kids need to stay home, the student is ill,” Stewart said. “To date, and it’s October, we’ve handled 364.”
Board member Arthur Stewart suggested the district check with its solicitor about the possibility of allowing close contacts to remain in school if they pass a daily symptoms check.
“For both vaccinated and unvaccinated masked students, we would not deny entry if, for the 10 day period, they in the morning, pass a symptoms test,” Arthur Stewart said. “That’s the motion that I would be prepared to make. Can you check that out and make sure that it’s within the boundaries that (solicitor) Chris (Byham) said we were legal to operate within?”
Amy Stewart said rapid or PCR testing is another option the district could explore to reduce missed days.
“They’re calling it ‘Test, to stay,'” Amy Stewart said. “That is what’s starting to happen in some other places that are taking a little bit of a different approach.”
If testing proved a viable option, Amy Stewart stressed students would not be tested without parental consent.
“So to be clear because I’ve answered, probably 50 parents that have asked me, you know if I’m going to test their children without their permission, and I’ve said emphatically nobody’s testing your child without permission,” Amy Stewart said. “They’re not going to be tested here at school without your permission. So I want to make sure that that messaging remains very clear, but it is a choice.”
“I want to reduce the number of kids that we deny entry to to the greatest extent possible,” Colosimo said. “I don’t have any idea at this stage, what the best course of action is and so I would ask (administration), can you come to CIT with a way to reduce (days missed) as much as possible? And if that’s testing, great. If it’s flip a coin and that’s the best you can do at least bring that recommendation to us.”
Regardless of what option(s) the board chooses, Amy Stewart said decisions need to be made with long-term thinking in mind.
“In ’19-’20, it was crazy,” Amy Stewart said. “I mean, we pivoted we tried to learn from that, and we tried to learn everything we could to try to make sure we could stay open and we did that in thinking that this was just going to be over. And now already, it’s Oct. 25 I have almost as many cases as we did in a year. So the reality of implementing the same strategies isn’t gonna work. This isn’t short-term anymore, you know, we need to go something more long-term.”
One such solution the superintendent offered was to create a new position within the administration that would be focused solely on the public health aspect of COVID in schools.
“I need somebody in charge of public health in the school district,” Amy Stewart said. “You’re talking to administrators who know what to do. We know education, and we know how to how to dig in, but right now we’re public health officials in many ways shapes and forms. I need somebody at a high level that can handle these public health issues.”
The district’s pandemic team, which began with two people to start the school year, has already increased to five and Stewart said they’re still having trouble keeping up with the need.
“We very quickly have pivoted into a world where a large void, and we are filling it because that’s what we do,” Amy Stewart said.
Colosimo closed the meeting by saying he was pleased that the board would likely have options to address these issues when it convenes again on Nov. 8, and that these options would allow both the board and the district to refocus on education.
“We had an outstanding conversation tonight,” Colosimo said. “I thought one thing, one phrase. Take back education. And I think that’s where we’re at. I think everybody’s they’re not diminishing what’s happening with the global pandemic. Not diminishing the effects of COVID in the neighborhood and in the county, but we need to take back education.”