Pocono Mountain School District Board met Wednesday night to discuss the much anticipated reopening-plan for the 2020-2021 school year. Via a public zoom meeting, school administrators also made big announcements regarding new principals at East and West high schools.
Superintendent Elizabeth Robison named Tammy Tolino as the new principal of Pocono Mountain East High School and Michael Jones as the new principal at Pocono Mountain West High School. Former West principal Dr. Mark Wade was promoted to PMSD Assistant Superintendent for Special Education.
"We want to ensure our plan provides for a safe environment and the most rigorous learning environment possible," said Robison. "Certainly we want to bring all of our students back to school for their classes to resume on a normal and full time schedule, however, we are working thru many challenges to see if we can accommodate all of our students in our schools full time and still meet the required state and federal health and safety guidelines and practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our schools. We don’t have a definitive plan on what things will look like because of all the uncertainty at state and federal level."
According to Robison, the re-opening plan is still under development as they are still receiving guidance on what needs to be included in planning and decision making processes for reopening schools. The district is still reviewing the parent/guardian surveys that were collected earlier in the month for input.
Some of the highlights in the July 6 – Parent/guardian survey responses:
- 66.5% would need to continue to utilize bus system
- 50.9% wanting full day as normal as possible in the fall, 34% wanted hybrid
- If a hybrid option was needed, 59.9% of parents would want a set schedule for in school vs. rotating or alternating day schedule
- 75.6% parents would want an interactive platform of online learning
Robison explained their plan needs to be operational in three phases.
What would reopening look like?
Phase one for reopening would be to have all students in school, some or all of the time. Phase two would address a hybrid phase where they can offer a combo of in-class learning and distance learning for students. Phase three would be if all student instruction would be provided via distance online learning only, if that became necessary again.
A moderator read off some questions from parents and constituents during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Liz Anne Azevedo of Jackson Township asked when parents can expect guidelines as to what the school year would look like, citing the time needed to plan and make decisions on their children’s behalf, such as childcare needs, cyber school registration options, or transportation.
Other parents reiterated similar questions and also questioned what recess would look like. Questions were also raised regarding lunch time at school cafeterias, arts programs and attendance/truancy policies.
Parents also questioned what policies were in place for if someone contracts COVID-19, specifically who and how many students would need to be quarantined or tested and how many people will be directly or indirectly affected. Parents also questioned whether they needed to buy school uniforms.
Parents also submitted a long list of complaints about not enough student-teacher interaction during the online learning process in the Spring and questions about how it would look this year.
Robison replied to everyone and reminded them again that the administration and faculty are still working through this and that it is a fluid process based on daily guidelines and guidance changes.
"The current state guidelines require masks if social distancing is less than 6 feet between students and teachers," Robison said. "We hope to have all the principals’ reviews so we know exactly what we can do regarding social distancing. We have also met with First Student weekly to plan and have prepared procedures to sanitize our buses. If all students and drivers wear masks, then larger buses could accommodate up to 48 students and still meet the DOH and CDC safety and health guidelines."
Robison claims the district has ordered facemasks, disinfectant, and other PPE in preparation to bring students and faculty back to schools safely. The district voted to meet and present their completed plan on July 30 and Aug. 12.
A question submitted by Trey Hoyumpa of Jackson Township read: "There is a lot of frustration around the transparency of the board and administration in the plans of the new school year, other nearby districts have been in conversations with their school populations and constituents for weeks while we still have no idea what to expect. Is there something in place or are there plans to have something in place to help partner with parents in planning for the future of our students and families?
Robison reminded attendees that updates regarding the plan were spoken about earlier on in the meeting, stating that the district would be ready to present a "responsible, realistic and achievable reopening plan" within the next two weeks.
There was also a question raised regarding an apartment being made for the school district.
"Is there any truth to this rumor?" The question read. "Is the district paying for an apartment? If so, who owns it? For what purpose? For how long? And at what cost to the taxpayers? And who or what is being paid by the school district?"
"In regards to rumors and cyber babble, it has been brought to my attention that these rumors and cyber babble continue on a Facebook page." Robison said.
"The answer is ’no’," she said. "The district does not pay for an apartment and nor do I have a district credit card, and the answer is ’no’ ...to all the false, vicious and defamatory statements being banded on social media."
"It is unfortunate that adults feel it is appropriate to post comments that would be considered cyber bullying if students made such personal attacks." Robison said. "However, I cannot control what individuals post, my team and I need to stay focused on a safe reopening plan."