Blairsville High School 05

Providing some insight to parents who have been wondering what the upcoming school year could look like, the Blairsville-Saltsburg school board approved a phased school reopening health and safety plan at a virtual meeting Tuesday, outlining the measures that will be undertaken as the new school year begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But directors cautioned that the plan is “fluid” and may change as guidance from state and federal authorities is updated in the coming weeks.

If Pennsylvania remains in the least restrictive “green” phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening, district students will return to brick-and-mortar classrooms, but with implementations in place for sanitation, monitoring health, social distancing and more.

If the commonwealth backtracks to the middle “yellow” designation, half the class will report to school on certain days, and the other half will learn remotely. According to the plan, each group would get two days of face-to-face instruction and three days of distance learning.

In the most restrictive “red” designation, schools would again be closed for in-person instruction, and remote learning would be required, either using digital or nondigital platforms.

Superintendent Jeff Soles explained that the state has put the task of developing a reopening plan on the schools, and that the district formed a 25-member committee to provide input.

He said the plan is a “working document” and “not set in stone” and could change when updated guidance is expected in a few weeks.

After that, the committee will reconvene and implement any new guidelines.

Board president Rick Harper encouraged parents to visit the district’s website, where the document will be posted for review.

As of now, in the green phase, Soles described the measures as “more self-monitoring” and said if children are not feeling well, parents should not send them to school.

Students and staff will be expected to self-monitor symptoms and report to the school nurse if feeling ill.

Masks would be considered optional in the green phase.

Classrooms would be “set up to maximize the area to distance students from one another,” according to the plan. Furniture that is not in use will be removed for more floor space.

Outdoors areas will be open as long as students adhere to social distancing, and buses will operate normally.

Harper said the district may need to hire more custodians, who will be “perpetually cleaning” the district’s buildings, with a focus on high-touch areas such as water fountains, restrooms, door handles and cafeteria areas.

Each building will also be cleaned and disinfected this summer, and hand-sanitizing stations will be installed in each classroom.

Students will follow their regular courses, but to decrease flow in the hallways, times may be staggered.

Visitors and volunteers will be limited.

In the yellow phase, there would be more restrictive measures in place.

Masks would be required — not optional — and all students and staff would have their temperature taken before entering the building.

Elementary students would stay in their classrooms, and teachers would rotate.

Outdoor facilities would be closed to students, and no outside personnel would be admitted.

Lunch would be retrieved by students in the cafeteria but taken back to classrooms to eat.

All extracurricular activities, clubs and field trips would be canceled.

Bus schedules would also be staggered.

If a student or staff member becomes infected with the virus, a negative COVID-19 test is required to return.

Parents would be informed in the case of someone becoming infected.

The district will also identify students considered to be at a higher risk and “determine a course of action that best fits their needs,” according to the plan.

In addition to discussing the plan, the board talked briefly on the option to install UV light filtration and will also be looking into options for negative pressure with officials from ABM, who are working on energy savings upgrades to district facilities.

And regarding cyberschool, Soles reported that the district is working with Seneca Valley to align courses, and an application process will be available in the coming weeks for those who choose to keep their children at home.

Information will be provided to parents and promoted on the district’s website as soon as its available.

The board also approved the recommendations for the return of student athletes.

The “resocialization of sports recommendations” are preliminary and may be amended as further guidance is available for fall, winter or spring seasons.

The recommendations for all levels of junior and senior high athletes are as follows:

• COVID-19 health screenings prior to any practice, event or team meeting, with the type “dependent upon the available resources and phase level.”

• Promoting healthy hygiene such as hand washing, and for employees to wear face coverings, which would not be used by athletes while practicing or competing.

• Intensified cleaning, disinfection and ventilation.

• Social distancing

• No sharing of water bottles

• The use of PPE as needed

• Identification of students at higher risk

The board also approved a similar safety plan for Evergreen After School Club.

Margaret Weaver has served as a Gazette staff writer since 2006. She covers Clymer Borough, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Blairsville court, and also works in the areas of layout, design and editing.