WCSD on track to start as scheduled

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Despite constantly shifting guidance from state agencies, Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart confirmed Monday the WCSD is ready to start school Sept. 1.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued another new set of guidelines Monday, but the current COVID-19 case count and positivity rate in Warren County has the district on track to keep all three opening options in place.

“We obviously have a lot going on,” Stewart said during Monday’s WCSD Board of Directors meeting. “I will say kudos to our IU (Intermediate Unit) for giving us the resources we need. I feel we’re prepared, and our IU is a big part of that.”

Stewart did touch briefly on the new guidance, a recommendation that schools base their instructional model on whether their county falls in one of three categories, low, moderate or substantial. Despite reports that Warren County fell in the moderate category, the state dashboard lists the county in the low category.

“It looks at the incidence rate and positivity rate in the county,” Stewart said. “It goes by the last seven days. But again, it’s a recommendation, not a mandate or an order.”

That allows the district to proceed with the option of opening in the traditional brick and mortar setting. the overwhelming preference of parents within the district

“We have over 3,600 responses to the options survey, about 80 percent of the district,” Stewart said. “We’re holding steady on 15 percent choosing Option 2 (Virtual Academy), 12 percent Option 3 (blended learning plan) and the remainder coming back to school.”

The district plans to issue an updated Health and Safety Plan based on all the new guidance received sine the initial plan was issued July 13, but wants to get as much of the updated information in as possible first.

“We will be patching together an update to the Health and Safety plan,” Stewart said. “We’re waiting for all the new guidance so we’re not doing it again and again.”

Traditionally, the district issues a new Student Handbook for each year, but the number of COVID-related policy changes makes that challenging.

“We’re going to be coming up with a ‘bending of the rules list,'” Stewart said. “Instead of altering every policy, we passed a motion that some policies will be altered because of COVID-19.”

Additionally, the district is looking at a change to alternative education to start the year to help with staffing issues.

“There is only one student in there for the first nine weeks,” Stewart said. “We’re looking at not having students go into alt ed for now and use that staffing for online learning. It’s the equivalent of three teachers we could better use at this time.”

Staffing issues remain a concern as the district tries to get each class covered, both online and in person.

“It’s a big staffing challenge,” Stewart said. “We have some teachers telling us they’re not able to come back to school because they’re high risk. I have put out for volunteers to teach for Option 2 or 3. In the next two weeks, staffing and restaffing is going to be a very big deal.”

In response to a question, Stewart confirmed none of the teachers unable to return are losing their job.

“They’re choosing to take a leave of absence,” she said.

The district is also looking at potential big-budget item in transportation, unless changes are made. Current restrictions call for no more than two students per seat.

“That is going to impact our funding if they don’t change how our transportation funding is done,” Stewart said. “If they don’t make changes on how they’re reimbursing us, our reimbursement would be down next year. That’s a big line-item for us.”