A vast majority of parents in the Cornwall-Lebanon School District want their children back in the classrooms this fall.

In fact, district superintendent Philip L. Domencic said Thursday, some 80 percent of parents “indicated a desire for in-person schooling” in a recent districtwide survey.

“The other 20 percent have selected a desire to have a virtual solution through our CLSD K-8 Virtual School or Cedar Crest Cyber,” he said in a letter posted to the district website.

With that in mind, he said, the school board voted 8-0 to approve a plan to reopen the schools during a special meeting held Monday evening via Zoom.

“This plan governs what we will do on Aug. 31,” Domencic said. “We wanted to do it now so we could get it and share it with the community.”

Accordingly, he said, the district came up with a “blended model” for the secondary and elementary levels.

“We’ve had a lot of people working on this over the last days, weeks, months,” he added. “Right now, the priority is to be sure we can serve our students and families as best possible. We’re going to be as creative as we can to do that.”

The plan kept three priorities in mind, Domencic said: “Protect the health, safety and well-being of students, families and staff; provide for safe facilities for students and staff to participate in educational activities; and provide for educational opportunities that maximize learning, are equitable and take into consideration the various dynamics of each family whether the instruction is in-person, hybrid, or virtual.”

It also adheres to “all of the changing guidance, mandates and things we are required to do by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” he added.

“The guidance changes regularly,” Domencic said. “What was green at the end of June is not what green means now. So, as a district, we need to be able to react and adjust to any changes. … This has been a fluid situation for quite some time.”

It’s still possible that state mandates will change between now and the start of school, he said.

“The reason we’re doing this now is, all these things have to be planned so we can have a smooth start,” Domencic explained. “We have to let staff know what their assignments will be, so they can plan for this.”

The plan works two ways.

At the elementary level, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will return to their classrooms. However, Domencic said, 14 professional staff members are being reassigned from “non-mandated or non-federally funded special areas, intervention, enrichment, and extended day kindergarten” to reduce class sizes in all district elementary schools. With students per classroom in the low 20s, he said, students will be able to spread out more and reduce exposure.

“We are very fortunate” that the elementary school buildings are large enough to accommodate small class sizes, he said.

Cafeteria seating will be expanded to the gym and large group instruction rooms to reduce the number of students sitting together at lunch.

At the secondary level, middle and high school students will attend in a “blue/gray (or A/B) model,” Domencic said.

“Half of the students will be physically present each day (with the exception of special education) and the other half of the students will participate from home in synchronous live instruction via their devices on alternating days,” he said. Accordingly, he added, “we will install cameras and 360-degree microphones in classrooms at the middle school and high school.”

Details of the schedule are being finalized, he said, and families will be notified soon what schedule their children will be on. Where possible, he said, siblings will be on the same schedule.

Throughout the district, Domencic said, the staff is beefing up the cleaning protocols with “extensive mitigation efforts” to minimize the chance of infection, and they are reducing the number of students on buses. Students and staffs will be expected to wear masks or face shields.

Parents also will have the option of choosing an all-virtual environment for their children, if they prefer to keep them at home. Students who opt for a virtual education can take live classes, synchronous with the in-class lessons, or asynchronous lessons that allow students to work on their own schedule.

“We recognize we’re going to have different opinions,” Domencic said. About 20 percent of families so far have indicated that they prefer a virtual education.

Parents are being asked to make a decision “as quickly as possible.”

“I know these are hard decisions for families, but we need to be able to plan as best we can for everybody,” he said.

There are some additional costs associated with the plan, Domencic noted. For instance, he said, the district is spending $50,000 to $60,000 on technology for distance-learning. Money from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act will help cover those costs, he said.

Further information on the plan is available on the district website at clsd.k12.pa.us. Details will be updated as they become available, Domencic said.

“I’m sure there will continue to be more questions,” he said. “Things can change quickly. … We’re going to push out as much information as we can to families.”

Making the new program work will take community involvement, he added.

“We need everyone’s cooperation with our health and safety protocols,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to keep our schools open. We need the cooperation of everyone.

“Whatever their personal opinions are, everyone wants their child to receive their best quality education.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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