February 26 – Hazleton students in life support, special education and autistic support classes and seniors in vocational programs will return to school in person on March 22.
Other students who want to return will return to school on April 12, school council president Linda DeCosmo said during the school council meeting on Thursday.
Teachers will report on March 15 to prepare classrooms, from where they will broadcast classes until students return in person.
“The dates we have out there, these are the definitive dates … I give my word,” said DeCosmo. The buses will also take students to and from schools, she said.
Most of the district’s 11,387 students studied at home throughout the year.
A few hundred students, especially those scheduled to return on March 22, attended some classes in person during the first semester.
“In the fall, these students did very well,” said superintendent Brian Uplinger after the meeting. A classroom at the Hazleton Area Career Center had to close briefly because of COVID-19, he said, “but other than that it worked well.”
Since Thanksgiving Day, even these students have had to study at home because COVID-19 cases have increased in the region.
According to a state classification system, disease transmission remains substantial in Luzerne, Carbon and Schuylkill counties, where students in the Hazleton area live.
But the Hazleton area is responding to guidelines from the state Department of Education, which encouraged elementary school students to return to classes in person during the second semester, which began on February 1 in the Hazleton area.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an update to schools on February 11, said that children and adolescents could become infected with the virus and spread it. Most children have mild symptoms, but those with underlying conditions are at increased risk of serious illness, according to the update, which recommended taking into account the specific circumstances of the community when reopening schools.
To prepare for the reopening, Hazleton Area invested in cleaning materials, including a machine that disinfects according to operating room standards.
On Thursday, the board accepted an offer from Air Purification Systems to evaluate ways to improve exchange and air quality at the 13 schools in the district.
After the meeting, Uplinger said that the number of days per week that students spend in classrooms will depend on how many of them want to return.
In the most recent survey, parents of 8,000 students indicated that they want their children to go back to school or have not responded. If so many students want to attend classes in person, the district will offer hybrid schedules in which students go to school for a few days and study from home for a few days.
If, however, less than 25% of students want to study in person, Uplinger said schools would have space for them to attend five days a week and still meet physical distance guidelines for protection against COVID-19.
“We will disclose this well in advance so that everyone understands who is coming back and when they are coming back,” said Uplinger.
Responding to a district resident who did not favor students taking standardized tests when they returned to school, Uplinger said, “I am 100% with you, but I am not the secretary of education.”
He later said that the state asked the federal government to skip testing this year, but the decision is pending.
The exams are usually held in April or May, but the federal government has said they can be postponed until September.
Neither option appeals to Uplinger, who said that tests put students under stress, and the Hazleton Area assesses their performance in many ways and many times a year.
“We have to look at the individual,” he said. “Children learn at different speeds.”
Another resident, Dr. Robert Childs, a former council member, suggested that the district use some of the federal pandemic money to buy Internet service for students whose families are not online.
The district started providing new computers for students to use at home this week, but even with computers, students need internet to participate in online classes.
Early in the pandemic, Uplinger said the district offered to pay the outstanding bills so that families could accept a free Internet offer for three months. The provider that offered the deal was unable to tell Uplinger the dollar amount needed to settle the debt.
“We tried and failed,” said Uplinger.
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