HASD offering virtual option

Online classes available if parents wary of sending children to school

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Hollidaysburg Area School Board on Wednesday evening, by a vote of 6 to 1, approved a school reopening and safety plan for students to return to classrooms on Aug. 26.

Board Member Manny Nichols was the lone dissenting vote.

Parents of district students who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school this fall because of COVID-19 will have the option of virtual classes.

For the children who do attend school, district officials said that movement in the halls will be limited by adjusting daily schedules and using directional traffic patterns. Secondary school students will be on block scheduling with a two-day, A and B rotation with four extended class periods each day instead of the usual eight.

“You want to reduce the amount of travel within the building. If you can reduce the number of individuals someone has contact with, you are increasing their chances of staying healthy,” Superintendent Robert Gildea said.

At the elementary level, students will mostly remain in one classroom with teachers moving from classroom to classroom to teach.

Gildea said all students and staff will be required to wear face coverings when outside the classroom, but once inside, and once social distancing is established, face coverings may be removed.

Nichols said he approves of most of the plan except for the face covering requirement.

“The plan itself I think is pretty good,” he said. “The people who worked on it did an excellent job. The only problem I have with it is the masks.”

Nichols said he is concerned with “contact transfer,” where people touch their masks and then touch other surfaces that other people may touch.

“People touch their masks non-stop,” he said. “If one kid would have COVID or any kind of virus, you could spread that pretty fast.”

Nichols said to help alleviate that risk, he recommends parents put their kid’s masks in the dryer every evening for at least 20 minutes to kill any bacteria that may be on them. He also said if you must pull down your mask, use the ear straps.

“The virus absorbs into that cloth, so anyone touching it can spread that anywhere,” he said. “It would be worse than not wearing a mask at all.”

Nichols said he is on board with the rest of the plan, and his no vote only reflects his opposition to the face covering requirement.

“I think they did an excellent job on all the other guidelines, but I think they missed it on the masks,” he said.

The district developed alternate options for families who choose virtual learning, based on feedback received from a survey sent to parents in June.

According to the plan presented to the school board Wednesday evening, if a student plans to use virtual learning for 20 or fewer days, the student will follow the normal class schedule using Google Classroom.

Students who plan to stay in the virtual setting long-term — more than 20 school days — will be enrolled in the Hollidaysburg Area Cyber Academy. Those students would need to schedule courses after consulting the cyber academy director.

The superintendent said the district is prepared to move all students to a virtual format in the event COVID-19 conditions worsen.

“We will continue to monitor additional actions, orders or guidance issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Department of Health and take swift action to move to a hybrid or virtual format if the circumstances warrant this move,” Gildea said.

He said a survey will be sent to out in late July asking parents to identify their transportation plans so the district can adjust bus routes and equalize the number of students on each bus. A seating chart will be created for each bus and face coverings will be required.

Gildea said the district will not perform temperature screenings on students as they enter the building, but all district staff will be trained on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and will be required to report any concerns.

Gildea said the district is encouraging parents and guardians to perform symptom screenings and temperature checks at home and to keep their children home if they are symptomatic or experiencing a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.

Gildea said alternate plans are being developed in the event conditions in Blair County worsen and COVID-19 cases increase.

“I want to do everything we possibly can to keep our kids in school,” Gildea said. “It is our goal to keep kids healthy in a face-to-face traditional setting.”

Mirror Staff Writer Rick Boston is at 946-7535.


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