DuBOIS — The DuBois Area School District’s Health and Safety Plan for the 2021-22 school year, which was approved at this month’s board meeting, looks a little bit different than last year’s, according to Superintendent Wendy Benton.
Benton, noting that the 2020-21 plan was about 54 pages, said that this school year’s is approximately 20 pages and there are nine components. She said even though there are a lot of similarities between the plans, this year’s is a much more simplified version.
“There are a few areas, however, that we are planning to make some minor changes, but it’s important to note that the primary goal for the school year is to safely open and maintain the operations of schools for in-person learning while keeping the health, safety, and welfare of students and staff as the top priority,” said Benton.
She said the district will continue to follow the evidence-based health and safety plans that definitely guided them through a year of in-person instruction during the 2020-21 school year.
For the start of the school year, Benton said the minor changes are related to protective face coverings and instructional models.
With regard to face masks, Benton said the district has “absolutely considered the guidance and recommendations from the CDC.”
“We have acknowledged that protective face coverings are effective,” said Benton. “However, they are only one of many layers of COVID mitigation strategies. So we will review the recommendations of the CDC and determine if and how we can implement prevention and mitigation strategies based upon the needs of our school communities.”
Benton said it’s important to note that all students and staff are required to follow all Commonwealth face mask guidelines while utilizing school-provided transportation. That is, she said, per the federal order that was issued in January of 2021, that requires face coverings, regardless of a person’s vaccination status, when on public transportation. The federal order specifically states that school buses are included.
“I just want to emphasize, if you happen to see a driver that’s not wearing a mask, if they’re the only person on the bus that is permissible practice,” she said. “And just a request to parents and students, I certainly understand that, some parents and some students may not want to wear a protective face covering on the bus. This is a federal order, and it is in mandate for school districts. And I just ask that everyone please support our bus drivers so that our drivers can focus on safely transporting our children to school and not on mask compliance.”
Benton said face masks will be permitted and provided to individuals that cannot self-provide.
“We always have extra available if someone would happen to forget,” she said.
Benton said masks within school buildings will not be required unless mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education or the Pennsylvania Department of Health, or unless COVID outbreaks within the school are impeding the district’s ability to safely maintain school operations.
In the event of COVID outbreaks that cannot be controlled through temporary closures for deep cleaning, Benton said the district may strongly encourage or require the use of masks and updates reflective of the new requirements will be provided to staff, students and families.
Although masks are an effective strategy in preventing COVID, Benton said, she emphasized all of the other layers of prevention strategies that the district has been implementing successfully.
“Really what it comes down to is, if we get into a situation where we cannot keep our schools open, or we’re having outbreaks, that may be a time that we do need to return to wearing masks,” said Benton. “However, given the number of cases within our area, and just how well things have been going with all of our summer instructional programming, it is my recommendation that we begin this school year with masks being optional. If someone would like to wear them they’re most welcome, but not requiring face masks to start the year.”
The other change, said Benton, would be the two primary options for instructional delivery. As always, she said parents and guardians know their children best and are responsible for choosing the best options for their child’s education.
The first option would be in-person in-school instruction, she said. The second option would be through the district’s kindergarten through 12th grade Virtual Academy.
In addition to that, all instructional staff will maintain a Google Classroom to facilitate instruction in the event that quarantines and temporary school closures are necessary, Benton said. Distance learning on those days with period-by-period instruction will be provided synchronously during temporary school closures, and instructional staff will follow their daily schedule.
“If we were to have a temporary closure and you have English class at 9:37, you are expected to log in and participate in your English class at 9:37,” she said. “And as always, special education services and supports, Title I services and gifted educational supports will be provided within either learning option.”
For more information about the district’s Virtual Academy, please contact its director, Carla Penman, at 814-371-8111, ext. 3169 or visit https://www.dasd.k12.pa.us/.
The first day of school for students in the DASD is Monday, August 23.