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BASD approves final plan for ‘return to school’

BELLEFONTE — At a special meeting Thursday night, the Bellefonte school board unanimously approved the final return to school health and safety plan for the 2020-21 school year. The meeting was held via Zoom.

As parents ready for the start of the school year, there are three options for students: Traditional face-to-face instruction, a hybrid option which combines online and in-person instruction and BeLA, which is completely online.

According to interim superintendent Tammie Burnaford, a great deal of thought and preparation has been put into all three plans.

“Our administrators are spending hours and hours trying to think of every challenge and obstacle that we possibly could have,” Burnaford said.

Originally, the district offered just two options — traditional face-to-face instruction and BeLA. But after much consideration and parental feedback, the district decided to add the hybrid option. District officials said the hybrid option allows students to attend in-person classes twice a week and then virtual classrooms for the other remaining days. The standard school day will vary from the high school to elementary. District officials said that that the option will be provided in two groups, group A and group B, this way students can rotate days and the school can monitor how many students are in the building at once.

Administrators addressed the numerous concerns if Centre County would revert to Gov. Tom Wolf’s yellow or red phase, which would close schools.

“If we go to the red phase and we have to teach virtually, we will still do all of those things … where we will teach period by period, the way we were,” Burnaford said. “Our biggest challenge in that will be getting the Chromebooks to kids, but the principals have already started a plan where they could have them to them in a day or so.”

Going completely online, of course, is a worst-case scenario. However, if that would happen, Bellefonte is ready, according to Karen Krisch, Marion-Walker Elementary principal and pandemic coordinator.

“We’ve come a long way since March,” Krisch noted.

During the meeting, Burnaford also addressed transportation issues.

“We are still working out transportation … we are meeting with Fullington (Trailways) next week, I believe. We don’t know who is coming (to school) yet, so we don’t know who needs a bus. We asked if parents could drive their kid, if they would drive their kid, which would just be awesome. But that creates a traffic flow problem. Everything you come up with to help creates another challenge,” Burnaford said.

According to Burnaford, transportation is always an issue at the start of any school year.

“Transportation is the biggest problem anyway, as far as the beginning of a school year. Because there are new kids riding buses … transportation takes awhile to iron out,” she said.

The board also passed a pair of resolutions. The first was a resolution for health and safety plan, which states that for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the superintendent “shall have the duty to develop a health and safety plan that ensures a minimum of 180 days of instruction, allowing for 900 hours of instruction at the elementary level and 990 hours at the secondary level, employing any combination of in-person, virtual; and distance learning mechanisms at the superintendent seems appropriate.”

The second resolution authorized the superintendent to “modify, amend or update the district’s reopening health and safety plan as needed from the effective date of (the) motion up through the end of the 2021 school year as otherwise needed or required to be in compliance with any additional federal or state mandates.”

Parents have until Tuesday, Aug. 11 to select a learning option for their child. The first day of school in the district is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25.

The Bellefonte board is scheduled to meet just one time in August. That meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at the Bellefonte Area Middle School.

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