I hope you have been able to find time to rest and relax this summer. I would like to wish everyone a wonderful summer break. I wanted to provide you with a variety of updates based on recent action taken by the IASD Board of Directors. I am hopeful this information will help you plan and prepare accordingly for the 2021-22 school year. As always, please feel free to reach out to your child(ren)’s school or to my office if you have any questions.
We welcome the full return of our students in 2021-2022
On June 14, 2021, the IASD Board of Directors voted to open our doors for 5-days a week for all grade levels (PreK-12). The IASD administration is preparing for a smooth transition to five days in the fall while keeping the health and safety of our students at the forefront.
Collectively, IASD values in-person learning, and a return to a 5-day week model will limit our ability to offer unlimited computer-mediated (remote learning) opportunities to our students. As such, we are expecting all students to return to full-time in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year. If your family feels more comfortable with remote learning, I am pleased to announce that we are in the process of rebuilding our cyber school (IDEAL) to have more synchronous opportunities for students to select; however, they will be limited by the number of available staff and student interest. We will not continue the process of allowing students to choose to stay home with remote access into the classroom. See below for a summary of the two types of learning options available.
Full-time, In-Person Learning (All Grade Levels)
- Available to all students, PreK through 12th grade
- Five days a week, regular school schedule
- Formerly known as IDEAL
- Limited course/seat availability for students who want to continue with virtual learning
- Designed for students who thrive in an online learning environment
- Combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, focusing on the core content areas with limited elective course offerings based on staffing availability and course requests
If you are interested in having your child(ren) enrolled in the IDEAL+ program, please contact Ms. Barb Byerly at (724) 463-8713 or at email@example.com by the close of business on Friday, August 6, 2021. This will provide us the time to align staffing to teach the number of students enrolled by the start of school. As mentioned above, we have improved our IDEAL program to offer live, synchronous instruction in the core subject areas in grades 6-12. For the elementary, the IDEAL+ program will operate similarly to last year’s design.
Health and Safety Plans & Masking
As we prepare to open our doors 5 days a week, it is crucial to provide a clean and safe environment for everyone, using prevention strategies to help mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. Section 2001(i)(1) of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act requires each local education agency (LEA) that receives funding under the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund to develop and make publicly available on our website a Health and Safety Plan. Each school district has the ability to create a plan they feel meets their local needs. The plan was originally approved by the Board of Directors on July 12 and then updated and approved at the July 26th meeting. You can review our plan by visiting our website or clicking here.
As per the Health and Safety Plan, the wearing of facial coverings is optional; however, students and drivers are required to wear masks on all IASD student transportation. This requirement is based on a Federal order issued in January 2021. The CDC requires face coverings, regardless of vaccination status, when on public transportation. This includes school buses operated by public and private school systems. The driver does not need to wear a face-covering if they are the only person on the bus. This is not the decision of the District, and we must comply with the mandate we were issued.
The situation in which we are working may change drastically each day. Although the plan makes mask-wearing optional, our policies will remain flexible so that, should the Covid situation warrant a change, we will follow the requirements issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and/or the Pennsylvania Department of Education as they are issued. We will also continue to monitor the local situation and carefully consider implementing any recommendations issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) should they become necessary. As part of our mitigation efforts, we will limit the amount of visitors into our buildings similar to last year. Your building principals will communicate at a later date regarding this strategy. Additionally, we are going to require that all 3rd party vendors (IUP included) who work in our buildings be vaccinated or wear a mask if they are not.
The Indiana Area School District will, if needed, work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Department of Education, and local public health officials, consistent with applicable laws and regulations to determine the prevention strategies needed in our area by monitoring levels of transmission in our schools. This may result in the need and requirement for masking until the levels of transmission are lower or vaccination coverage increases. We will use the number of confirmed cases in our schools as one of the main metrics in determining whether or not masking is required. This is designed to keep students safe, mitigate the spread of the virus, and keep our schools open. None of us want to wear a mask; conversely, none of us want to close our schools as we value in-person learning.
Additionally, we will plan to continue timely and appropriate communications with our families by notifying them of confirmed cases as well as creating a public Covid dashboard to help create awareness behind the need to implement additional prevention measures (such as masking) based on positive cases and school transmission if and when that situation would occur. To be clear, the new Covid dashboard will present real-time info/data about the situation in our buildings.
Immunization/Vaccine & COVID Testing
As previously stated, there is no requirement for students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for school entrance; however, we are hopeful that those students who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic will not be required to be quarantined if an outbreak were to occur. The Indiana Area School District has not and will not be administering any vaccines to any students. We have simply made families aware of vaccine clinics in the area.
If possible, I am asking that families contact their child’s school nurse to provide them with verification of their child receiving the vaccine. If this information were provided to the school nurse, it may preclude the DOH from having to quarantine vaccinated children. Again, I am not positive that this is the case nor am I requiring the vaccine verification as a mandate. I am simply asking for you to supply us with this information if you feel comfortable.
The DOH is expected to communicate with schools in the near future about providing training and testing materials to schools that are interested in COVID testing on-site via our school health offices. As per correspondence from the Department of Education, “DOH’s COVID-19 school testing program is expected to include several options for testing, including rapid tests, at no cost to the schools or families for the 2021-22 school year. Schools will be provided with various levels of staffing support as a part of this program to assist with the logistics, planning, and operations of any school-based testing. DOH is working to finalize the free, voluntary school testing program prior to the start of the school year and will provide additional details and instructions on how schools can elect to participate.”
As of today, the Indiana Area School District has not received information regarding the COVID testing options that might be available to schools. We will make a decision about offering testing once we have a chance to review all information. If we were to elect to offer testing, our school health officials would call and gain parent permission prior to administering any COVID test. The testing would NOT be mandatory. Any testing that our officials would administer would be on a voluntary basis for students with parental consent.
On Friday, July 16, the District was notified that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has made some updates on their guidance regarding COVID and the upcoming school year. You can visit their site and the updated content by clicking here. Furthermore, all 500 school districts in Pennsylvania were made aware that “The Pennsylvania Departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) continue to advise school entities to follow current CDC guidance, to the greatest extent possible, when creating and implementing mitigation policies and practices for their communities. DOH and PDE will not be releasing separate state guidance or recommendations for the start of the 2021-22 school year.”
In regard to quarantines, schools were advised that
- “Schools should continue to work with DOH or county or municipal health departments (CMHD) to complete contact tracing for individuals diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19. As part of the contact tracing process, DOH and CMHDs will continue to work with schools to gather information about potential close contacts.
- The CDC guidance adds the following exception to the definition of close contact:
- In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) where:
- both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks; and
- other K–12 school prevention strategies (such as universal and correct mask use, physical distancing, increased ventilation) were in place in the K–12 school setting.
- This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.”
IASD will take an asynchronous approach to instruction for students who are quarantined. The District will make sure students have access to the lesson plan and all corresponding activities via their teacher’s Google classroom. Some teachers may choose to provide a recorded overview of the day's objectives to provide clarity to the student; however, if the entire class is quarantined, synchronous learning will occur for all students. Secondary students (Grades 6-12) can email their teachers to set up a remote learning session from 2:40 - 3:10 p.m. Monday-Friday to get help on their assignments and to address any concerns or questions they may have. IHS has built another layer of support considering a vast majority of quarantines from last year derived from that particular building. Live support from a certified teacher (not necessarily a student’s assigned teacher) will be available for additional support on Fridays. Additional plans are currently being developed for any quarantines that are necessary at the elementary level. We will share those plans with you as soon as they are finalized.
At this time, although it is not yet certain or finalized, it is our understanding that the DOH will continue to impose quarantine orders. We have no choice in these matters and are required to communicate and adhere to any order for quarantine.
In closing, we are looking forward to returning to school in the fall. The administration and staff have been hard at work throughout the summer preparing for a new school year. I understand that this entire situation is frustrating for our families. Please know that we will do all that we can to keep our staff and students safe and our schools open five days a week. We are respectfully asking for your help in complying with these measures as we believe in-person learning is best for a large majority of our student population. Be sure to check your email during the break, as we anticipate needing to communicate with you occasionally.
All the best,
Mr. Michael J. Vuckovich
Superintendent of Schools