Wayne Highlands prepares to go back to school

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 9/2/20

HONESDALE, PA — In about a week, students enrolled in Wayne Highlands School District will embark on a schoolyear unlike any other they’ve experienced. Some will be back inside their …

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Wayne Highlands prepares to go back to school

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HONESDALE, PA — In about a week, students enrolled in Wayne Highlands School District will embark on a schoolyear unlike any other they’ve experienced. Some will be back inside their classrooms for the first time since March, while others won’t be leaving their homes at all.

Wayne Highlands, like the neighboring districts of Western Wayne and Wallenpaupack, offered parents and students three options for the 2020 schoolyear 1) attend school traditionally, in person; 2) attend live classes virtually from home, through videotelephony that allows teachers and students in school to interact with students at home and vice versa; and 3) learn through an online, cyber-schooling program. Wayne Highland’s superintendent Greg Frigoletto said that out of the district’s approximately 2,400 students, about 1,825 will returning traditionally, 493 will virtually attend classes live and 82 will use the online education program. 

As the months leading up to the start of school became weeks, Pennsylvania’s guidance about how to reopen properly has changed and sometimes been conflicting, requiring administrators throughout the commonwealth to stay flexible.

Most recently, the PA Department of Health issued a clarification to its universal face-coverings order, outlining only three instances when students, staff and visitors are permitted to remove their masks inside the school: 1) eating or drinking when spaced at least six feet apart; 2) when wearing a face-covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task; or 3) at least six feet apart during “face-covering breaks” to last no longer than 10 minutes.

Wayne Highlands updated its health and safety plan to reflect this clarification, and also sent out a letter to parents emphasizing that the order “does not eliminate face-covering breaks from being permitted during each school day. Frequent face-covering breaks will be incorporated into each day.” It does, however, mean that students are not allowed to leave their masks off for extended periods, even when they’re seated in class, six feet away from one another.

“It really, thankfully, has not made a change in what people plan on doing for the reopening,” Frigoletto said.

Perhaps most controversially, there has recently been some confusion over how the fall sports season will look for PA this year. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association originally approved the season to commence on time, but Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health later recommended that school sports get put on hold until January 1 of next year.

The fall season ended up getting postponed as a result of this disagreement but commenced on August 24, Frigoletto said, except for football, which the local Lackawanna Interscholastic Athletic Association delayed until Monday, September 14.

This type of conflicting guidance from state leaders was not unique to sports. In early August, PA Association of School Administrators Mark DiRocco penned an op-ed for The Morning Call asking Pennsylvania to provide stronger, clearer support for its public schools. 

“School leaders have whiplash, as they’re pushed and pulled in multiple directions by guidance that changes every few weeks or even days,” he wrote. “They are facing unprecedented responsibilities and decisions—ones that would be better answered by epidemiologists and medical doctors.”

Frigoletto said that well before COVID-19, schools have often had to discern between what is required and what is recommended. During the pandemic, he said the discrepancy between the two is exacerbated and, at times, the directives from the state have not been very clear. While the district typically favors “local control” rather than direction from officials in Harrisburg who have less of a vested interest in Wayne County, Frigoletto said that through this pandemic, some firmer direction from the state would be helpful.

“It hasn’t been as clear—the direction and the directives—as we might like them to be under the circumstances,” Frigoletto said. “We like local control, but we would almost welcome being told what is mandatory versus what is recommended.”

With a health and safety plan approved, the custodial staff freshly trained on how to institute the district’s more rigorous cleaning procedures and the faculty trained on how to simultaneously provide an education to students in school and at home, Frigoletto is champing at the bit to see the schoolyear get underway.

“We really need to just open, we need to get students here for everybody to be assured that the plan is going to be effective and everybody to see that it’s manageable and doable,” he said. “One of the greatest challenges we’re going to have is to deliver what we’ve promised, and that isn’t just in regard to the health and safety part of what our plan is; it’s just as true about the academic piece of our plan, the delivery of a quality education that is as close to normal as we can make it.”

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