Superintendent Shane Hotchkiss told the school board on Monday that to receive American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds, the district must make a health and safety plan.
Hotchiss said the district had already begun making one when the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) provided a template. The plan must be completed and sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Education by the end of the month.
The plan must include information on how the district will follow guidelines, stay safe and remain open for in-person education when possible, Hotchkiss said.
It also has to cover how it will “… address the students’ academic needs, and students’ and staff members’ social, emotional, mental health, and other needs, which may include student health and food services,” according to information shown to the board about the plan requirements.
Additionally, the plan has to describe how it “will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policy on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC.”
Those recommendations include “universal and correct way of wearing masks,” “modifying facilities to allow for physical distancing,” and other recommendations, according to the presentation.
Hotchkiss said that the plan has to be updated every six months.
Hotchkiss recommended making masks optional for those who are outside, vaccinated people who are inside, unvaccinated people inside but over 6 feet away from other people, and for student athletes “working out or competing.”
He noted that masks are no longer mandatory in the state for vaccinated people.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “It feels good. I know, everybody, it feels good. It feels great. Thank God!”
Pennsylvania’s mask mandate will end on June 28 or after 70% of eligible residents receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Hotchkiss recommended that the mask requirement be dropped completely once Gov. Tom Wolf’s order expires.
He also advised the board use a regular instruction model this fall with kids back in school five days per week.
“Our plan, my recommendation, is to not go above what is required by (the Pennsylvania Department of Health) and PDE,” Hotchkiss said.
While he advises following mandates, Hotchkiss said he did not want to impose restrictions beyond what was absolutely necessary.
Hotchkiss said that social distancing next school year will be done when possible, but it won’t always be an option. Contact tracing will be completed to the level mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Hotchkiss also worked to dispel a local myth that children would be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the schools.
“We are not going to be administering a vaccine to kids,” Hotchkiss said. “We may offer to host a clinic, but we as a school entity are physically not going to give vaccines to kids. There was this idea that we were going to do that without parent permission. That is not happening. We would never do that.”
Hotchkiss said that the district has already hosted some clinics.
“I think that is a public responsibility that we have,” he said. “We are a public facility. If they want to do something here for adults, students, I have zero issue by doing that. And we’ve done that already. But please know, please spread the word. If anybody asks, tell them to come listen to this: We’re not in the business of giving shots.”
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.