Indiana High School sign 2016-001

The look of the education system in the Indiana Area School District when school bells ring — or when Google classroom apps pop open — on Sept. 8 was left as undefined Monday as it was in June, as school officials said some time will be needed for the administration to yet again devise a plan in response to a change in state guidelines.

Barely eight hours after Gov. Tom Wolf issued recommendations for Pennsylvania schools’ use of in-person or online learning for reopening, now based on trends in COVID-19 cases and positive testing in each county, District Superintendent Michael Vuckovich told board members and an online viewing audience numbering about 60 that his team will work again to answer state requirements.

Under Wolf’s guidance, Indiana County is statistically categorized as an area of moderate community transmission of coronavirus. The recommendation, short of a mandate, is for schools to offer at least half-time virtual learning for all students.

Vuckovich reiterated, as he had mentioned in a digital message to parents earlier Monday afternoon through email, social media and the district website, that he had sympathy and empathy for all whose own plans for the school year have been upset by the latest change.

Vuckovich emphasized that the governor’s guidance was only a recommendation.

“His recommendations could have impact on us and we are currently looking at different options for updating the school year based on that recommendation based on those metrics,” Vuckovich told the school board.

“But those recommendations and metrics would have been helpful to us in June. It would have been helpful for us to build our plan. We built a plan that was based on flexibility and will adhere to that plan as they use low, moderate and substantial similar to our (green, yellow and red.) Based on those numbers, we now have to take those things into consideration. We have some work to do.

“We have to wait for (Pennsylvania Department of Education) to provide clarity. We have some work to do with Intermediate Unit No. 28 and our sisters schools in Indiana County because it affects everyone,” Vuckovich said. “We’re going to need time to plan and we’re going to look for the next several days at what we have to re-engineer and come forward within our committee meetings to talk about these issues.

“I apologize for all the meetings and the emails to our families, but I stand behind the fact that we value transparency.”

While board members made plans to take up the revisions at scheduled committee sessions in the coming weeks, the directors voted to allow students to continue their voluntary preparation for fall extracurricular activities and sports, with the football program’s preconditioning and exercise programs that already are under way, held as the example of the limit on what school officials may allow. The district’s official opening of football practice has formally been delayed by orders from Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), the fate of the fall schedule of interscholastic competition for football and other teams was left in limbo and not the subject of discussion.

While school board member Thomas Harley earlier Monday said the district’s shift into a restricted level of learning for the fall signaled the cancellation of sports programs, Vuckovich said a formal decision would follow additional advice expected within the next few weeks from Harrisburg.

“Sports are not canceled at this time and we are hopeful that we will be able to provide extracurricular activities for our students,” Vuckovich said following the meeting. “We will continue to proceed with the voluntary student participation in extracurricular activities/summer conditioning while adhering to the IASD Athletics and Extracurricular Plan. When more information becomes available, we will be sure to review it all in its entirety and communicate accordingly. At this time, we want to allow the PIAA and Governor’s Office to conduct their meetings and we will wait for further guidance.”

Harley cited a “Recreation & Park Facility Reopening Guidelines” report issued by Pennsylvania Recreation & Parks Society and based on commonwealth-issued guidelines including the governor’s “Process to Reopen Pennsylvania,” and held to his position that fall sports would be scrapped.

“When you look at the phases and their restrictions, for example in the Football and Soccer guidelines, they have a Phase Out with no restrictions, they have a Green Phase which also has no restrictions and a Yellow Phase where organized team sports are not permitted,” Harley said. “It isn’t a stretch to see that the yellow phase is what has been imposed across Pennsylvania and on IASD today.”

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.