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Panther Valley unveils school plan

Panther Valley School District adopted a reopening plan this week that will be implemented when its schools start up again this fall, as long as Carbon County remains in the green phase.

Members of the district’s school board voted on the plan at a meeting Wednesday night, which was streamed online via Zoom. Around 100 people tuned into the virtual vote and the discussion that came before it.

The district’s new policies include modifications to transportation, in-person instruction and lunchrooms.

“We’re all in this together,” Superintendent David McAndrew Jr. said. “At the end of the day, our number one responsibility is to keep the kids safe. Our number one focus will be on keeping the kids safe, followed by education.”

As long as there are cases of COVID-19 locally, a note printed on Wednesday’s meeting agenda read, the virus’s transmission can’t be stopped completely. Instead, the goal is to “keep transmission as low as possible to safely continue school activities.”

According to the virtual presentation delivered by Robert Palazzo, Panther Valley Elementary School principal: Of the more than 800 responses gathered through family surveys, nearly 80% of respondents said they planned to send their children back to school in August. Half said they would still have children eat lunch at school daily. Just over 70% intended for their children to take the bus.

If the county remains in Gov. Tom Wolf’s green phase - the least restricted in his three part, color-coded system - students taking the bus will be limited two to a seat, and they’re required to cover their faces. The district plans to retain a five-day school week, with students in the elementary and intermediate schools staying in the same grouping throughout the now five-hour school day.

Procedures for class changes at the high school are still being fleshed out.

“We’re going to limit movement as much as possible,” Palazzo said.

The high school will be in session between 7 a.m. and noon, the intermediate school, 7:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and the elementary school, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Parents will also be given the option to choose full-time distance learning at home for their children.

Both students and staff will have to complete daily health self-assessments. The intermediate and high schools will offer a grab-and-go lunch at the end of the day, while elementary students eat in their classrooms or in limited groups in the cafeteria.

Mask wearing procedures will follow those put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which currently mandates that everyone must wear a face covering when outside their home, unless they have a medical condition.

If the county slips back into the yellow phase, the school week will be shortened to two in-person instruction days. Distance learning will be utilized for the other three. Temperature checks will be instituted for all students upon arrival.

If a coronavirus case is confirmed in the district, a letter will go home with students indicating the risk level it poses.

Every student will receive a laptop in case of a partial or full closure.

The plan unveiled by Palazzo was a condensed version of the actual, 40-page-long strategy approved by the school board. Participants on the call were able to submit questions to the board by emailing them to covidinfo@panthervalley.org, but they were not answered before the vote was taken.

In-person meetings with parents were to be scheduled following Wednesday’s reopening plan adoption, according to a Panther Valley Intermediate School Facebook post from Tuesday.

But a day later, Wolf announced a cap on public gatherings due to a spike in coronavirus cases. So, those meetings will go online.