HOMER CITY -- Classrooms will reopen Aug. 24 for students in the Homer-Center School District, school board members said Thursday, but the exact rules that will be in place for in-school protection from the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be determined until later this month.
School officials tied the uncertainty to the ongoing changes in Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines for opening the schools for the first time since classes recessed on March 13.
“More guidelines are coming out tomorrow, with things that have to be added or omitted,” Superintendent Clint Whitesel told the board. We have met quite frequently as a team and with teams from other local districts to stay as cohesive and consistent as possible as a county. But we know right now the plan is changing daily.”
The solid parts of the plan are these, board President Michael Bertig said:
• The buildings will be physically open for in-person classes.
• Students will have the option for online studies from home by enrolling in the district’s cyber academy.
• All will follow Centers for Disease Control and Pennsylvania Department of Health pandemic guidelines.
The other provisions in the plan offered for approval Thursday are so fluid that the directors agreed to enact it with the title “Summer Activities Health and Safety Plan” so the Evergreen After School Club could begin its programming for students next week.
“We don’t want people to think this is what we’re going to do for the fall,” board member Michael Schmidt said.
The board approved the plan with the provision that it expires Aug. 24 or as soon as the directors are satisfied with the actual plan for the school year.
The directors and administrators deliberated business once again from their homes — one logged in from the passenger seat of a car — using the online Zoom app.
“The goal is to get Evergreen into our schools next week for the summer program,” Whitesel said. “If there’s no plan approved, we can’t let any children in any of our buildings. … If we don’t approve a plan, they will have to participate in Evergreen virtually.
“I know there are several things in our plan that several board members are not comfortable with, and I agree with most of it,” he continued. “Some things we will have to do better, we will have to change some wording in our current plan, and we are going to do that.”
Without objection, board members agreed with Whitesel’s last-minute recommendation to change a 3-foot social distancing requirement to 6 feet, and to remove World Health Organization guidance orders from the text.
The administration team and directors will meet again July 21 to rewrite the plan to meet any other changes handed down by the state in the next two weeks, “so we have a true back-to-school plan for our community, our parents and our students,” he said.
In other business, the board:
• Approved changes to the Summer Athlete Resocialization Safety Plan, the guideline for student athletes as they train for the fall sports schedules. With certain exceptions, student athletes are required to wear face masks. Coaches, athletes and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain 6-foot social distancing. Students with health or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing mask ought to use a face shield, according to the updated “Frequently Asked Questions” document being used as the sports program safety guide.
• Granted permission to the Homer-Center Band Boosters to run the Memorial Field concession stand during football games this fall, with the requirement that the group adheres to CDC and state Health Department rules “as they exist” for halting COVID-19.
• Named Holly Rougeaux as elementary school principal, succeeding Michael Stofa, at a salary of $94,000 effective July 20.
“I want to let you know that I’m not nave, I know its going to be an incredibly challenging year, but I’m looking forward to working with everyone to make this a plan that we know we will revise over and over again for the pandemic we are experiencing,” Rougeaux told the board. “We’ll work together; we’ll be collaborative and I assure you that I’ll give it everything I have. Thank you for the opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.”
• Named Bethany Genchur, the district’s special education director, to also serve as assistant elementary school principal with no change in pay.
“I’m very excited, and I’m excited for Holly. I think this is going to be a perfect fit,” Genchur said. “We have an uphill battle, all of us as a district, this year. There are a lot of new changes, new things going on. But I am super excited. … Thank you for believing in me.”
• Hired Christopher Garritano to replace Rougeaux as the high school instructional technology specialist at a salary of $59,192 subject to an increase for 2020-21 following a formula in the teachers’ labor contact.
• Hired Lauren Yackuboskey and Kathleen Gibson as instructional aides, each at $9.55 an hour subject to contractual increases when the school year begins.
• Moved Alicia Juart, a four-hour daily, nine-month cleaner to a four-hour daily, 12-month position retroactive to June 29.
• Accepted retirement notices from Food Service Director Susan McLoughlin, effective June 30 after 25 years with the district, and from cafeteria worker Susan Marra, effective July 31, following 28 years of service.
Both were praised by the superintendent and directors for their long and high levels of service.
Board member James McLoughlin abstained from the vote on his wife’s retirement; all other items of business on the agenda won unanimous approval.
• Revised the district’s subscription to Sapphire Student administrative software for 2020-21 at a cost of $22,426 to reflect the addition of a notification service that was omitted from an agreement approved June 18.
• Approved a 3 percent wage increase for all security personnel for the 2020-21 school year.
• Approved a contract with Pressley Ridge Greensburg, a program that supports youths, individuals and families through life’s challenges with a full continuum of mental health services, foster care, residential treatment, and specialized education programs, for the coming school year.
• Approved the 2018-19 fiscal year audit as completed by accountant Ronald C McCrory LLC.
• Selected CNC Construction to complete a high school theater access renovation project for a low bid of $85,670.
• Awarded a contract to East America Inc. to pave and repair the entrance drive and parking lot at the school campus for $37,524.
• Agreed to a tuition rate of $308 a day for a district student served by New Story, of Indiana.
At the recommendation of director Gerald Bertig and several other directors, the superintendent agreed to write letters of thanks to State Rep. James Struzzi and State Sen. Joseph Pittman for their efforts in the Legislature to block Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an environmental protection program that is said, if enacted, to lead to closure of the Homer City Electric Generating Station and other coal-fueled power plants in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
Indiana County government and commerce leaders, and especially Homer City and Center Township area officials, have held that the closure of the power station due to RGGI would hurt the local economy with the loss of hundreds of jobs and thousands of dollars in tax revenue.