Penns Manor high school sign

KENWOOD — Penns Manor Area School District’s board of directors has amended district and athletic health and safety plans — originally passed last month — to reflect recent changes mandated by Gov. Tom Wolf, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera.

“Face coverings are required to be worn to help decrease potential exposure to COVID-19,” Superintendent Daren K. Johnston read at Thursday’s two-hour-long session.

That session included a 90-minute committee meeting and a voting meeting normally held a week later.

That is in addition to what already was required for a new school year scheduled to begin for fall sports teams on Aug. 10, then for teachers Aug. 24 and students on Aug. 26.

“Do we reasonably expect school to take place this year?” School Director John Hardesty Sr. asked.

Some parents have asked that question. In fact, Johnston said, there’s been twice as many inquiries since those new orders came from Harrisburg, than there had been since restrictions began last March.

So a survey will be circulated beginning next week, the superintendent said. As Johnston put it, the questions could be summed up this way: “Are you prepared and feel comfortable sending your student to a brick and mortar school?”

High school Principal Michelle Dolges said she’s seen what can happen “as the mother of a very busy 6-year-old,” who is told to put on a mask, and “it becomes a blindfold. It becomes a beard.”

Solicitor Ronald Saffron suggested that parents should start having their kids wear masks at home “so they’re used to them when they get to school.”

Penns Manor also offers a cyber academy. Johnston would prefer parents choose that option over putting their children in cyber charter schools.

“We do have some additional costs for the platform we used for our cyber school,” the superintendent said. “But by all means it’s an absolutely minor cost to the district of less than $2,000 per student.”

That’s compared to the alternative of paying charter schools — $14,000 per student in most cases, $33,000 for each student in a special education situation, according to district Business Manager Joshua Muscatello.

The district already is tapping its fund balance by $900,000 to cover costs revenues aren’t expected to cover in its 2020-21 budget. Johnston said adding the cost of families opting for charter schools could bankrupt the district.

To say the least, School Director Richard Polenik said, “we would have to re-evaluate our staff and faculty.”

There were other pandemic-related matters Thursday:

• Johnston said Tri-County Transportation is prepared to socially distance students on its school buses, limiting seating to two students per seat. He also said, in answer to a question by Transportation Committee Chairwoman Debora Tate, that the carrier is using the same equipment for cleaning and disinfecting buses that the district purchased for its buildings.

• The board gave the administration permission to advertise for two four-hour cleaner positions for the coming year.

• The board retroactively approved an agreement with 2080 Media Inc. Play On! Sports to install equipment that can be used to monitor activities at the high school gymnasium and the football field, with subscriptions to be offered to viewers. The cost is $3,500, coming out of a federal CARES Act grant provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The district’s plans take into consideration Penns Manor Area being in red, yellow or green phases of pandemic restrictions. The district and all of Indiana County is in a green phase for now, but yellow could mean limiting students to two days a week, while red could mean a repeat of the class shutdown from this past spring.

The district is giving each student a Chromebook, but not every student could use it at home.

“That is still a major concern of ours, we still have students out in our rural areas who may not have internet access,” Johnston said.

In other business Thursday, the board approved:

• A Microsoft License Program Enrollment for Education Solutions Agreement for licensing all Microsoft devices and software for the next four school years at $7,662.60 per year.

• An agreement with Edgenuity allowing Penns Manor Area Cyber Academy access to all its courses and World Languages during 2020-21 for $6,674.

• A service agreement with Daikin Applied to complete service to a compressor starter control for the elementary chiller at the cost of $6,575.

• A one-year renewal with Coach Digital at $3,998 for access to online programs.

• Access to ESGI for online assessments of primary grade levels at Penns Manor Area Elementary School at a total cost of $2,030.

• A 2020-21 dual enrollment agreement with Mount Aloysius College for high school students to take classes there at a cost of $60 per credit. The board previously approved a similar agreement with Penn Highlands College.

• An agreement with Ignite Educational Solutions as part of the district’s supplying Title 1 Non-Public services to three students at Northern Cambria Catholic School. The cost of $5,039.34 is covered by Title 1 federal funding.

• An agreement with Clymer Family Medicine to serve as district physician for 2020-21 at a rate of $38 per physical.

• A waiver allowing a pre-kindergarten student who doesn’t turn 5 until Sept. 25 to start kindergarten this fall. Normally he or she would have to turn 5 no later than Sept. 1.

The board also approved a long list of sports volunteers for the 2020-21 school year, pending receipt of all current clearances, cardio and impact testing, and coaching education courses as required by the PIAA.

Named were, for football, Carson Rhea, Bob Packer, Mark Dalton, Brad Packer, Zach Johnston, Chad Kuzemchak, Andrew Packer, Lee Kuzemchak, Dalton Nichol, Ernie Gilles and Jeremy Hill; Chad Kuzemchak also for girls’ basketball; and Ally Ghiardi for cross country.

The next scheduled committee meeting will be Aug. 6 at 7 p.m.; the next scheduled voting meeting Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.