Indiana High School sign 2016-001

Uncertainty over planned swimming instruction in Indiana Area School District gym classes and competition by the schools’ swim team led the school board on Monday to hold off on hiring lifeguards through the YMCA of Indiana County.

Concerns were raised as the board was asked to vote on the annual contract with the YMCA. Director Tamara Leeper asked for assurance that the district has properly planned for the health and safety of those who would use the pool and locker rooms, and for more than an anecdotal suggestion that chlorinated water kills novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 infection.

“The chemical gas that comes off water attacks the virus,” director Thomas Harley said. “Swimming is one of the safest things we can do. It’s the lowest-risk activity we can pull off.”

Leeper asked for a doctor’s opinion.

“I want to see the literature,” Leeper said. “Children will change in close quarters. There’s more to this than them being in the pool.”

Directors mulled over whether to have a committee review the questions — and which one: the ad hoc health and safety committee, or the academic and extracurricular activity committee.

Directors had no dispute with the YMCA service contract itself.

Under terms of a five-page agreement presented for the board’s consideration, the district would pay $2,205 a month for the YMCA to assign trained and certified lifeguards who would “be the final authority in the aquatic environment,” ranging from monitoring and reporting student discipline to daily testing the pool water to assure its compliance with applicable standards.

The agreement was to begin Sept. 21 and continue through May.

Short of calling a special meeting, the earliest the board could reconsider the contract would be at the next scheduled meeting on Sept. 28.

Harley and board President Walter Schroth tried to clarify the debate as being about two issues. They encouraged immediate approval of the contract itself, noting the Page 1 provision that allows the district to cancel the agreement at any time if the pool would not be used for educational purposes, while having the health and safety provisions reviewed for directors’ satisfaction.

Superintendent Michael Vuckovich said the administration would assemble information beginning today to show what precautions and safeguards would be in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“If we are to have swimming, the real question is, are we willing to hire lifeguards through YMCA,” Schroth said. “My recommendation is to accept the contract and let Mike vet the safeguards and get back to us with their recommendations.”

Part of the plan, Leeper added, should be the option for parents to have their children excluded from pool activities.

With ongoing doubt, the board voted 7 to 2 on director Barbara Barker’s request to table it for review.

Barker, Leeper, Cinda Brode, Tamie Blank, Terry Kerr, Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro and Ute Lowery agreed to the delay. Harley and Schroth voted against halting discussion.

In other business Monday, the board marked the conclusion of the renovation project at Indiana Area Junior High School.

A payment of $1.1 million due this month to Huntingdon Public Cap Corp represented the final biannual payment on General Obligation Bond 2014, a refinanced version of the original debt the district undertook for the massive overhaul at the junior high.

The district awarded $16.3 million of contracts for the work in October 2003. The work was completed in January 2007.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.