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The Blairsville-Saltsburg school board and administrators on Tuesday discussed the formation of an education contingency plan for students during the current statewide school shutdown over COVID-19 concerns.

In a meeting that was broadcast through the online conferencing service Zoom, the board and public heard an update from Superintendent Jeff Soles, who reported teachers this week will close up grading for the third period.

Soles said students were three days away from completion, so teachers will wrap up grades this week and finish report cards to be distributed.

He also said officials are coming up with plan for students, including getting Chromebooks out to those who will need them to complete assignments.

Board president Rick Harper asked parents to be patient and bear with the district moving forward as plans come together and parents are notified.

Soles told parents to look for announcements in the next week as more information becomes available.

Announcements will be provided through the district’s messaging system, as well as online.

Director Holly Gibson told parents to expect being overwhelmed with emails and information.

“It’s a learning process,” she said. “Please understand that. Hold on to your hats. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

“We are struggling just like everyone else,” Harper said this morning, noting that information coming from the state has been confusing.

He said the district will continue to follow state guidelines, and they will provide some type of curriculum. Compounding the issue, he said, was that there’s “still not a full understanding of what to do with IEP students” for special education instruction.

Parents should expect some communication as to the next step, possibly by the end of this week.

Harper also said that if students are able to come back on the tentative date of April 9, they could probably finish the year by the end of May. Beyond that, the year could extend into June. He said the “worst-case scenario” would have students in school until June 30.

Harper also praised Smith Bus Co. drivers, cafeteria workers and district employees on a job well done working to provide free bagged breakfasts and lunches to students.

He said he has received many good comments about the program.

The district is providing the food through bus routes, and Soles said the effort is averaging a little under 600 meals per day. Gibson noted that the buses are being disinfected daily.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the people in our community,” Harper said.

Also regarding the pandemic, Harper said the Indiana County’s emergency management team has requested and received permission to use Blairsville High School parking lot as a site for drive-thru COVID-19 testing “in the near future.”

The site would provide a testing center for the southern portion of Indiana County.

Near the meeting’s conclusion, Harper noted that he thought the district’s first online meeting went well, and said there were 80 people listening, calling it “a good turnout.”

He said the board will discuss the possibility of streaming all future meetings through a device the district uses to stream sporting events.

In other business, the board discussed a recent meeting with ABM, the company working with the district as part of an energy savings plan.

Harper said ABM presented a list of items for consideration for projects totaling about $18 million, and that “priority No. 1” is a new boiler for Blairsville Elementary School at a cost of $4 million. The equipment is “living on borrowed life there,” he said.

Harper said the board would discuss finance options with ABM officials.

The $4 million boiler would bring an estimated cost savings of $400,000 each year, Harper said.

Also on Tuesday, the board:

• Approved a resolution calling for charter school funding reform as districts struggle to keep up with growing costs.

• Approved the calendar for the 2020-21 school year, with a start date of Aug. 25 and end date of May 28, 2021.

• Approved the district’s special education plan, which will be available for public review for 28 days.

• Approved an agreement with IUP for graduate assistants and a pre-apprenticeship agreement with the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

• Announced a scholarship opportunity. The Julie Sadler PACT Memorial Scholarship is for a female Indiana County student who intends to continue athletics after high school. The late Julie Sadler was a co-founder of the Indiana County Women’s Flag Football League.

• Approved a variety of field trips and workshop requests for April and May.

• Approved the retirement request of Karen Sherman, a paraprofessional with the district since 2017.

• Hired Megan Rokicsak as a part-time cafeteria aide at Saltsburg Elementary School.

• Approved the resignation request of David Rodkey as district junior varsity track and field coach.

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.