Indiana Area School District leaders are on track to delay the scheduled start of 2020-21 school year classes until Sept. 8, in part to allow teachers extra time to prepare for a hodge-podge of teaching scenarios that lie ahead in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

School board members raised no objections to Superintendent Michael Vuckovich’s recommendation Thursday evening during an online meeting of the Academic and Extracurricular Committee. Directors are poised to officially vote on the school calendar change at a special board meeting set for Monday. Other revisions to the calendar are meant to keep the end date on Friday, June 4, as already planned.

The delay would mean classrooms slightly cooler with the approach of autumn. It also could give the district the chance to respond to any late changes ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf or the state Education or Health departments.

At a 2-plus-hour session last evening, called as a continuation of the committee’s 3-hour meeting Monday, directors reviewed updates to the district health and safety plan drafted by the administration under a state Department of Education mandate.

The health and safety plan, a 25-page document when board members scoured it Monday, will come up for a vote of approval Monday.

That plan differs from a reopening proposal being presented as part of a homework assignment for district parents. The 20-page “Informed Learning Options for Reopening” report appears online at the district website, linked from a memo from Vuckovich to parents that asks them to choose how they want to have their kids educated in the coming year.

Parents can opt to send students to the six district classroom buildings following the health plan guidelines.

Those students would be sharing classroom time with kids who choose to log in from home in what officials call a “synchronous” online schedule. That means they learn in real time from teachers in the classrooms.

Called a hybrid model, it’s flexible enough to allow kids to attend brick-and-mortar school some days and study from home on others.

Other students could enroll in the district’s IDEAL distance-learning program, which is called “asynchronous” learning because students can log on and follow written directions at any time of the day.

The locally run cyberschool also gives students the chance to take some classes in person and to take others on their computers.

Vuckovich and Director of Education Robert Heinrich conducted the committee meeting nearly in two simultaneous sessions. While one spoke live online, at times addressing almost 80 people shown on the log-in list, the other answered viewers’ written questions posted in the chatroom function of the Google Meet app.

While parents have been completing online surveys since June to indicate their choices for the format for their kids’ instruction, board members held the consensus that a final brief survey should be offered for parents to affirm or possibly change their minds about their preferences.

The online letter to parents, appearing as a popup on the screen of any visitor to the district website at www.iasd.cc, includes links to descriptions of the choices being offered.

At the outset of the committee session Thursday, Vuckovich urged district parents and residents to be considerate during deliberation of business.

“We expect communication from parents and board members,” Vuckovich said. “A lot of people are stressed and a lot of people are scared. We should not ignore those emotions and we should treat them with kindness and concern.

“It will be difficult if we have constant interruptions and questions as we go through the plan. So we ask all to treat us with that same kindness.”

Yet a third plan on the committee’s agenda met with consensus approval — the “fluid, living” athletics and extracurricular plan that has governed the return of students for football and volleyball practice and band camp so far this summer.

Committee members on Thursday also concurred with tabling consideration of a foreign exchange student program because of changing global implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.