St. Marys Area High School front

ST. MARYS — St. Marys Area School District board of administrators voted for a full five-day opening, under the guidance of the Pennsylvania departments of health and education, for the 2020-21 school year at Monday evening’s meeting.

Following public comments, which were strongly in favor of a full reopening when instruction starts on Aug. 31, board member Stacy McKee made a motion to do so, seconded by Robert Sorg.

According to Superintendent Brian Toth, new recommendations released by the Wolf Administration Monday impacted the district’s reopening decision at the last minute.

The new recommendations rely on two standard public health metrics, including incidence rate and percent positivity of diagnostic testing. A planning tool released by the Coronavirus Task Force “designates each county as having a low, medium or substantial risk of community transmission,” according to Monday’s news release.

“This is just one example of how quickly things are changing,” Toth said. “We know you want your children back in school — we want your children back in school, too. Our number one goal is to keep students and staff safe.”

School districts have been put in a “very poor position” throughout this pandemic, Toth noted, dealing with many mixed messages, late information and last-minute changes. Many districts have already come up with their reopening plans, and will now most likely have to put together a new one.

Masks will be expected to be worn by all students, Toth said, or there must be waiver signed by a parent and a note from a medical provider.

Toth said before the new guidance was released Monday, the board’s recommendation was going to be a hybrid model. A survey with three options — a full, five-day opening, a hybrid model or completely remote learning was sent out to parents last week.

Toth said they “couldn’t ignore” the new recommendations, but are still planning for any one of the three main learning models.

Board member Harvey Ramsey reminded listeners that parents can still select a virtual education for their children, much different from the cyber school methods that are failing throughout the state, he said. Currently, the online methods are looking to use St. Marys area teachers who would deliver the SMASD curriculum, dedicating these teachers to personalized and more focused instruction.

The Dutch Academy is still a “viable option” for anyone who requests or needs it, Ramsey said, and they can contact him at any time.

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