Homer-Center School District officials have no immediate intention of scrapping a back-to-school plan that has all the students attending all their classes every day in the district’s elementary and high school buildings, according to discussion at a special meeting of the school board held Tuesday evening.
The board and administrators responded to a position taken Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf, who offered guidance on school reopening protocols in response to requests from school officials across the state.
Wolf’s recommendations, based on statistical analysis of the spread of COVID-19 infections county-by-county, would have all Indiana County schools conducting either a blend of in-person and online instruction, or a full online education program.
Indiana would be among the majority of counties in the state that are labeled with a “moderate level of community transmission” of coronavirus, according to the governor.
But noting that the statistics posted on the governor’s website reflect the number of positive test results for a certain seven-day period (July 31 to Aug. 6), Homer-Center officials considered whether Indiana County’s statistics might improve in certain seven-day periods yet to come.
Homer-Center is scheduled to welcome students Aug. 31 for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
The district’s already-devised health and safety plan dictates how students and staff would be kept distanced and required to wear masks to stem the spread of the virus. It lays out the sanitization procedures in the schools, and the policies for riding school buses and eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Officials said Homer-Center could confidently defend its decision to fully open the schools despite advice to the contrary from the governor.
“As long as we’re doing everything possible to keep our kids and our staff OK, we’re safe — in the moderate level,” Superintendent Curt Whitesel told the board.
Homer-Center’s pre-opening game plan has included adoption of the health and safety program and scheduling of online meetings between staff and parents to keep families informed of procedures. Its level of diligence, a legal adviser said, would protect the district from potential efforts to force Homer-Center to change its educational plan.
“If the district were to have a reckless disregard for the safety of students and staff — that’s a very high requirement of any legal proceeding,” district solicitor Dan Cooper said Tuesday. “So merely adopting a plan that does not comport exactly with what the governor provides, I believe, would not establish … (proof) of reckless disregard.”
The school board will meet in a regularly-scheduled session Aug. 20 with an opportunity to review trends in virus testing and positive results and to reconsider or affirm its current reopening plan.