To Open or Not to Open
August 5, 2020
One of the questions on many people’s minds these days is whether or not to physically open up school this fall due to COVID-19. There are many variations on what parents can do for their child’s education: homeschool, cyberschool or stick with the more traditional method of sending their child to school at a physical building. Superintendents in two school districts in Susquehanna County have tentatively decided as of this writing to go ahead with opening school five days a week with some restrictions and a third is opting for a hybrid model of two days in school and two days online. All of the schools are looking at safety measures like spacing out desks six feet apart or as much as possible, removing unnecessary furniture, like filing cabinets and having students and teachers wear masks when they cannot be six feet apart, both in the school and on buses, adding plexiglass in some areas and sports are on pause until guidelines from the PIAA can be addressed. The Susquehanna Community School District, Susquehanna, is looking at a full reopen on August 25. The school mentions on its website that it is difficult for children to express themselves in a virtual environment as the main reason for the full reopen. Acting Superintendent Peter Supko said, however, it is a fluid situation and the school board will meet again on August 5 to deliberate on considering alternative plans if needed. There will be social distancing in the cafeteria, with children sitting in every other seat. The number of students riding the bus will be reduced by ⅓ each run and they may add runs as well. Classrooms will be cleaned nightly with electrostatic sprayers with Vital Oxide. Surfaces like bathrooms will be cleaned twice a day, as well as busses with the solution.
The Mountain View School District, Kingsley, plans on a full reopen on August 27 but also has a hybrid plan mapped out in case the situation with COVID becomes worse. Plans include: Staff will open windows during the day to help with ventilation, and high-touch areas will be cleaned frequently; ventilation systems will be used; elementary students will eat lunch in their classrooms, and high school students will eat in large common areas six feet apart; parents are encouraged to drive children to school; extra bus runs may be implemented, if financially feasible. Buses will also be cleaned before and after each run.
The Forest City Regional School District will be taking much of the same measures but with a twist. They will be implementing the hybrid model when they reopen on August 31. Group A will go to school on Monday and Thursday and do online course work on Tuesday and Friday. Group B will meet in person on Tuesday and Friday and meet online on Monday and Thursday. Wednesdays are still under review, according to Superintendent Dr. Jessica Aquilina said on a recent Zoom meeting. Preschool and kindergarten plans vary. “It would be impossible to open up school on a full-time basis and have everyone wear a mask all the time. A full return isn’t possible because of Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines,” she said. The plan will be revisited at a business meeting on August 17. There will be increased cleaning throughout the day, including adding an extra night shift for maintenance and having students in grades 4-12 clean desks upon entering and leaving the classroom. Dr. Aquilina said almost 60% of parents said they could transport their children to school every day. The school still plans on adding double bus runs as well. Recess for elementary students will be limited to one grade level at a time.
So, what do kids think about all of the plans? Three sisters and their grandmother were interviewed. The girls are students at Mountain View. Holly, 14, said, “I was cautious and worried but if someone doesn’t get it, you won’t become immune. I’m worried but not as much as I used to be. If virtual, I don’t think I would get the proper learning experience. I didn’t learn anything in the spring. It felt like a big review,” she said. Nine year-old Kali feels the same about going. She definitely wants to but says it is a weird experience. “I want to go to school but on the other hand, what they are doing is weird. Teachers will switch classrooms not the kids. It is usually the opposite. I rather go to school. It is easier on me and my parents. It is easier to understand and have the teacher help you.” Maci, 8, feels safe about going but explains why she doesn’t want to, “It’s going to be different. I rather do school online because you don’t have to wear a mask and there are less rules to follow.” All of the girls said wearing a mask is too hot to be wearing all day. Their grandmother, Susan, is all for them going back to school in person. “Just use common sense. They need socialization and face-to- face teaching. A lot of kids lost a lot of ground and don’t know how they will make it up,” she said.
There is no easy answer and lots of questions that face those in the school community on this ever-changing situation.