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Mixed reactions to school plans

Parents around the area remain conflicted about return-to-school options for their children as the 2020-21 campaign remains about a month away.

Districts across the state are finalizing health and safety plans, many of which call for either a full five day per week return to school, or a hybrid option with several days in school and several days watching classes online.

Survey results in many districts indicated the majority of parents, including over 70 percent of nearly 1,000 respondents in Lehighton Area School District, want their children to have as much face-to-face instruction as possible.

“Kids need school,” said Tiffany Montefour. “They need friends, structure, and an actual in-person teacher experience. I’m nervous but I remain confident. We can only preach to them to be cautious, wash hands, wear your mask and protect yourselves while protecting others “

Other parents, meanwhile, said they plan to err on the side of caution this school year.

“The school districts aren’t even remotely prepared for the challenges this school year presents,” said Eleanor Eisley Billig. “While the students are home this year, get better prepared for next school year and even start it early to use as a catch-up on classes.”

Options even differ locally, with most of the decisions coming down to school sizes and the ability to distance children effectively within the buildings.

Lehighton unveiled their back to school proposal this week, calling for elementary and middle school students to return to in-person classes full time, while high school students would rotate days based on their last name.

Palmerton, on the other hand, will be splitting students at each level into two groups, with one group attending school on Monday and Tuesday, and the other group on Wednesday and Thursday. All students would be watching classes online on Friday.

“Everyone has their own opinion, mine is send them back,” said Danielle Wehr. “I want my child to get the education in the classroom and learn responsibility like getting up and dressed and packing her lunch and everything she needs to learn to prepare for adulthood. It was not easy for her working at home.”

If Carbon County remains in the green phase, Jim Thorpe students will also return to the classroom five days per week. Parents, however, have the option to keep students learning virtually from home, as they do in many other districts.

“School boards aren’t even meeting in person to discuss the upcoming year, but they want us to send our kids back?” said Megan Kramer. “No thanks. Parents need more support to be able to stay home and help their kids with online education.”

Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday tried to dispel the notion he may pull the plug on this school year.

“There are widespread rumors that I will soon be announcing a statewide school building closure or canceling classes this fall,” Wolf tweeted.

“I want to be clear: I am not closing school buildings or canceling classes.”

School officials have critiqued the state for its lack of specific guidance when it comes to reopening expectations.

One day after Palmerton released a reopening plan calling for all students to return to the classroom five days a week, the state issued guidelines calling for at least 6 feet of social distance to be met within the classroom. Those guidelines pushed Palmerton to a hybrid plan to allow for more space within its schools.

Even state legislators have admitted the upcoming school year would force them into a difficult choice if they had to make the decision.

“As I listened to the speakers, particularly the parents, I’m thinking of all the questions I would have had to ask should this virus had happened 20 years ago, and I have no idea how my wife and I would have dealt with this,” state Sen. Dave Argall said during a senate committee hearing earlier this week.

Parents like Montefour are simply hoping to get their children more of a sense of normalcy this fall.

“I feel for these kids I really do, I just want them to feel like their lives are normal,” she said. “We have to keep our faith and stand by our school district as this indeed is their first rodeo as well. They won’t hit perfection right away, but I’m trusting in them to keep our children safe and comfortable.”

Others won’t be so quick to dip their toes in the water.

“If students go back, we’ll be swimming against the tide or back stroking,” Billig said. “My question is why would we want to take a chance putting a child at risk to the mercy of this disease?”