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Tamaqua school board discusses reopening options

Class is set to resume next month for Tamaqua Area School District students.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the group discussed districtwide reopening strategies.

“I’m trying to look at the guidelines that they give to try and see what a day would typically look like,” Tamaqua Superintendent Ray Kinder said of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested guidelines. “And we’ll try and meet as many recommendations as we can. We can certainly make decisions (in the future) and submit it to the state.”

A wealth of information was provided to the board for the first time on Tuesday. Kinder provided a few different potential reopening plans. Many schools across the state are considering similar strategies.

Virtual school

A first possibility would be to continue having school virtually.

“Everything would be done through Google classroom,” Kinder said. “Depending on the circumstances, buildings may be closed to all employees. … Compared to 2020, I would say this; the students will have more rigorous curriculum expectations and grading procedures.”

Kinder re-emphasized that online learning is not ideal, but the district has to be prepared for anything, especially if Schuylkill County would hypothetically move back to the red phase in the future.

Half capacity

Another reopening option is to bring back students at half-capacity.

“It could be daily; it could be weekly,” Kinder said. “You can do things differently with secondary and elementary. School buses will be occupied by one student per seat with an average of 24 students on each bus. However, recommendations from the CDC were to put a student in every other row for 12 total rows on a bus.”

It’s no secret that there are a shortage of buses and drivers across the state, and it would be nearly impossible to function with only a dozen students on each bus. “Consideration would need to be given to reducing in-town transportation,” Kinder added.

For example, under the 50-percent option, a group of students could hypothetically attend school Monday and Tuesday and do remote learning on Thursday and Friday, while the second group could operate on a reverse schedule. Most classes would operate between 12-16 students. The fifth day of the week would be set aside for a deep clean of the school.

With a school at half-capacity, classrooms could meet the suggested guideline of 6 feet of social distance. Masks on students would only be “required” when students are on the move throughout the campus and not while sitting at the suggested distance.

“These are all recommendations and are not mandatory from the Department of Health and the CDC,” Kinder said. “These aren’t the only three options of reopening that exist, I’m just trying to show you what they could look like. They will all have repercussions that come from them. These are things I say based upon recommendations and information that we have today.”

In the classroom

The third strategy would be to bring everyone back at full capacity. Class sizes would be per usual, but it would not be possible to social distance. Masks would be worn at all times in school. Anyone with symptoms would be required to stay home.

Both faculty and students would be randomly screened for temperatures. Staff and students would perform basic routine cleanings during the school day and there would be time allotted for hand washing and sanitizing during the school day.

Tamaqua School Board President Larry Wittig appeared to be in favor of the potential full return.

“It just seems to me that there’s an element out there that wants to scare everybody to death, so that everybody is paranoid about something,” Wittig said. “It just seems to me that if we do the full return, there is a lot of safety measures in there.

The virtual thing; there’s no way that academically, those kids that are 100 percent virtual, have not been academically damaged through the last quarter. As good of a job as our teachers have done - and I get praise all the time saying how wonderful they have been - I just feel so strongly that we cannot overreact on the ‘cautious side.’ If we want to be absolutely safe - stay at home, keep the doors locked, wear a mask. … At some point it’ll turn everyone into marshmallows.”

Under a full return, there would be two students per-seat on a bus and masks would be required.

“My gut reaction is that students deserve better,” Wittig said. “The students need to be here and the teachers need to do what they do best. And we collectively need to make sure that it’s as safe as it can be under the full return scenario. That’s just my pitch.”

No decisions have been made. Kinder asked the board to digest the information, as it’s sure to be revisited in the coming weeks.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. July 21. The first day of school is set for Aug. 26.

The Tamaqua Area School Board is weighing several options for reopening. To see the discussion, watch the video on the Times News Facebook page. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO