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Trail class quarantined

Fifteen Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center students must quarantine after their teacher tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.

The district, which had its first day Thursday, was one of the only in the region to reopen fully. The teacher, whom Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas did not identify, had a rapid COVID19 test done on Sunday and within hours, the district began notifying the students in the classroom. Rakauskas was unsure of the teacher’s symptoms or when they developed.

The 15 students must self-isolate for two weeks, and the teacher will be able to instruct the students virtually from home, Rakauskas said.

Maintenance staff recleaned the Factoryville school on Sunday afternoon, including the affected classroom and any common areas the teacher could have visited.

School will remain open Monday but would close for three to five days, or longer, if more people within the building test positive.

“We’ll watch carefully,” Rakauskas said. “We’re prepared for this.”

Under state guidelines, all students and employees must wear masks in school, even when greater than 6 feet apart. When school started Thursday, students sat as far apart as the classroom space allowed, and wore masks except when eating or drinking.

Along with contacting parents on Sunday, the district alerted the state Department of Health and Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency.

Surveys this summer showed 75% of parents favored a full return to school. School board President David Thorne called the positive test the “first setback” but said the district continues to do what is best for its students by offering in-person instruction.

“We are going through a storm, but we are going to continue our course,” he said Sunday. “We as a community will continue to move forward in the best interest of all our kids.”


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Students back to school

“Does anybody at home have questions?” Gail Franko asked her sixth grade math students on Friday from her classroom at Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center.

As students sat at their desks spaced 6 feet apart while wearing face masks, others followed along with Franko from home via Google Classroom.

The Lackawanna Trail School District welcomed all students back under a full reopening plan last Thursday, with 20 percent of students opting for an online education instead.

“It’s wonderful to be back. We miss seeing the kids and it was exciting and overwhelming at the same time,” she said. “I’m glad to see the numbers that have returned because you definitely get more of an education in the classroom.”

On Wednesday, the Tunkhannock Area School District also brought students back, but under a hybrid reopening plan. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade returned full time, while seventh grade and up have two days in school and three days online.

“I thought it was an incredibly smooth start,” said Superintendent Heather McPherson. “I think the kids were happy to be back and we were all thrilled to see them.”

Of the district’s 2,158 students, 640 have enrolled in online schooling through Fusion C3. For Fusion students, classes started off slowly with an introduction to the platform rather than jumping into assignments, McPherson said.

Aside from issues with dismissal times at the brick and mortar schools which have been addressed, she said virtual learners experienced technical glitches, but district officials have been working on solutions.

“There’s a lot of learning that’s happening on our end as well,” she said. “We just ask for parents’ patience and understanding.”

Lackawanna Trail Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas also reported a positive start. He said the biggest issue was transportation delays, which has gotten smoother with time. Online learners also experienced some issues, but the network has held up well overall, he added.

“There are always first day hiccups in any year. This year we expected there to be more just because of the incredible amount of change we’re implementing, but in retrospect, I think there are actually fewer,” he said.

For two-county schools like Lackawanna Trail, the state recommends going by the county with a higher transmission risk. Rakauskas acknowledged that with Lackawanna County being considered at moderate risk, a hybrid or virtual start was recommended.

“We know we’ve gone against that recommendation but we’ve done it very carefully. The biggest reason that we thought we were able to do this is because those 200 students aren’t coming back,” he said.

On Friday, Colby Stanton sat in Franko’s class and said that while it’s been an adjustment, he’s glad to be back at school.

“I’m excited to see my friends,” he said. “Virtual school wasn’t the same.”


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Teen faces state prison time in assaults

CAMERON EBERT

An 18-year-old Tunkhannock man faces 5 and a half to 14 years in state prison after being sentenced last Wednesday (Sept. 9) for assaulting Tyler Hospital emergency room employees as well as two policemen in 2019.

Cameron Ebert admitted his responsibility in late July in a video guilty plea before Wyoming County President Judge Russell Shurtleff, but last week faced a pair of his victims in person in the county’s main courtroom.

In a plea agreement, some 27 different counts had been reduced to three with the first focused on spitting at and striking two police officers and the last two directed at two Tyler employees.

The incident happened on April 12, 2019, when the defendant was 17, but District Attorney Jeff Mitchell successfully sought to have Ebert tried as an adult when a first jury trial was scheduled for July 15, 2019. The matter was continued through six more jury dates including thrice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assistant public defender Jesse Hallinan said Ebert struggles with mental health issues, including bi-polar disorder, and has suffered “severely from depression and anxiety for what occurred on that awful day.”

Hallinan said Ebert never once asked the public defender’s office to find a loophole to get a reduced sentence. He said Ebert actually worries about the victims and is remorseful for what happened.

Ebert spoke to the judge and said, “I suffer from mental illness. I do feel very bad for what I did.”

He started to cry in front of the judge, and said, “I would like to apologize. What I did was wrong. Having done it, I am so sorry.”

Nurse Debra Mackiw took the witness stand and said, “This patient punched me in the head, grabbed my hair to the point of ripping a large portion of hair out, and struck my head with such force it caused me to go unconscious and have a seizure.”

She added, “I felt scared, angry, sad, worried, disappointed, anxious and apprehensive. Those feelings remain with me.”

Mackiw said her biggest feeling was “loss. I feel his actions have caused me to lose my passion to help those patients that others don’t see the same way I do.”

“I also want you to know that while you were in jail I lied awake in bed at night worried about you,” she said. “Please don’t go through life blaming others.”

Ted Kross who oversaw Tyler’s emergency room, but no longer works there, also took the witness stand and spoke from a 38-year-tenure as a nurse.

He noted that the day before the incident, Ebert had chosen to leave the ER and Mackiw who had previously testified actually had gone outdoors looking for him because she was worried for his safety and wanted to protect him.

“We are in the helping profession and want people to get better,” Kross said. “She’s one of the best nurses I have ever come across. She would do anything and everything to help someone get better, and you chose to assault her.”

Kross looked across at Ebert and said, “You’re only 18 and you have plenty of time to turn your life around. We want you to get better. I hope the judge makes a difference in your life.”

DA Mitchell underscored that the victims were police and health care workers trying to help someone. He asked the judge to consider consecutive sentences for Ebert as well as court-ordered mental health treatment.

Ebert was sentenced to 54-108 months in state prison, a $500 fine and $1,571.60 in restitution for spitting on and attacking two police officers; he was also sentenced to 12-36 months in state prison and a $500 fine for aggravated assault of Mackiw; and to 1-24 months in state prison and a $500 fine for simple assault on Kross, with sentences to be served consecutively.

In explaining his sentence, Judge Shurtleff spoke of Ebert having a prior history of violence as a juvenile and his mental health needs would be best addressed in a state facility. Ebert was taken into custody, and the judge said he would be sent to Camp Hill in the near future for processing.

Others sentenced by Judge Shurtleff on Wednesday:

  • Brad Wesley Askew, 21, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 6-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for possession with intent to deliver on Jan. 31; and to 2-11 months in county jail and a $500 fine for DUI with a minor on board on May 23, 2018, with sentences to be served consecutively.
  • Nichole Ann Bozek, 31, of Nicholson, was sentenced to 30 days-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for possession of a controlled substance on Aug. 30, 2018; and to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Aug. 30, 2018, with sentences to be served concurrently.
  • Michael John Budzak, 43, of Noxen, was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Jan. 8.
  • Dennis George Carpentier Jr., 45, of Marshalls Creek, was sentenced to 4-36 months in state prison, a $500 fine, and $1,544 in restitution for retail theft on March 29, 2016; and to 4-12 months in state prison and a $500 fine for receiving stolen property on April 16, 2016, with sentences to be served consecutively.
  • Lisa Ann Dudock, 39, of Tunkhannock was sentenced to 6 months intermediate punishment, commencing with 15 days house arrest, and a $500 fine for DUI on April 27.
  • Douglas Scott Harrison, 49, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 5 days-6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI of a controlled substance, second offense, on June 30, 2014; and to 30 days-17 months in county jail and a $1,500 fine, for DUI, third offense, on July 1, 2015, with sentences to be served consecutively.
  • Christopher Martin Harvey, 44, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to intermediate punishment of five years, commencing with 90 days house arrest, and a $1,500 fine for DUI on July 26, 2019.
  • Thomas Lowell Hummell Jr., 52, of Mehoopany, was sentenced to 72 hours-6 months and a $1,000 fine for DUI of a controlled substance on Aug. 6, 2019.
  • John James Meehan, 31, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 48 hours-6 months in county jail and a $500 fine for DUI on July 17, 2019.
  • William David Mooers, 29, of Tunkhannock was sentenced to 7-23 months in county jail and a $500 fine for recklessly endangering another person on May 12.
  • Kimberly A. Weida, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 12 months probation and $500 fine for drug possession on May 30.
  • Eric R. Whitman Jr., 29, of Toms River, N.J., was sentenced to 72 hours-6 month in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI on Sept. 23, 2019.

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TA school board mulls mask policy

The Tunkhannock Area School Board spent about an hour at last Thursday’s meeting mulling over the district’s mask policy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Holly Arnold asked if the board might consider some alternate face covering options. And, she seemed to take issue with doctors having to write orders excepting some students under certain cases.

Superintendent Heather McPherson said, “Everything we have done is to protect kids to the nth degree.”

After discussion, William Prebola said “for medical purposes, there’s no perfect mask in the broadest sense. There is no right or wrong one so long as we are maintaining the safety of kids,” and he said it was important “to get parents to bear with us.”

“The last thing anyone wants is to have a COVID outbreak,” he added.

A vote was put on the table to amend the face covering policy but was not supported by a 4-4 vote.

Resident George Yuhas, who acknowledging enrolling two of his children in cyber-charter learning, said he was disappointed that the district does not make available numbers to show how many cases are out there and how the numbers change each day. “The public needs to know, are we safe?”

County EMA Director Gene Dziak said, “We’re trying to mitigate the threat of the virus spreading.”

He said with 72 cases to date in the county, “I have to commend Wyoming County and this school district with going the distance.” He suggested with as small a number as the county had, there wasn’t a lot to put out before the public.

Elsewhere during the meeting, the board also adopted a formal response to the auditor general’s performance audit report of 2015-19.

According to state auditor general Eugene DePasquale’s office, the Tunkhannock Area School District inaccurately reported transportation data over four years, resulting in a net underpayment in transportation reimbursements of $195,214, and, the school district also failed to conduct all required monthly fire drills and maintain adequate drill documentation for one school year, the audit — which was released to the public last week — found.

The board signed onto a 3-page response which essentially acknowledged “insufficient knowledge” regarding certain interpretations. Arnold suggested the concerns were “minimal” and it could turn out there is additional money to come to the district.

The board also participated in PSBA officer elections; approved a Continuity of Equitable Education Grant in the amount of $57,750; and adopted the textbook, ‘Graphic Design and Print Technology’ for use by the Graphic Communication class.

There was a discussion coming out of a building and grounds committee meeting about air flows in buildings; and from transportation committee acknowledging a shortage of substitute bus drivers and how to address it with state legislator Rep. Karen Boback to be drafted a letter addressing concerns.

Prebola spoke about an extracurricular meeting and with concerns about COVID-19, “From what I see, people are following the rules. Coaches are great.” Once again he noted how health and safety were paramount.

Board treasurer John Burke also wanted to give a shout out to the administration for fine tuning the district’s Fusion C3 remote learning so money that should rightfully be going to the district is staying there. With some 600 students opting for that plan had they gone a different cyber-charter route, the district could have stood to lose $9 million from its budget to programs which had little or no accountability.

Superintendent McPherson thanked the teachers for “an amazing job thus far,” and she asked parents to just be patient with the staff.

Under unfinished business, the board approved a second reading of policies 222 (tobacco & vaping products), 233 (suspension & expulsion; 805 (emergency preparedness & response), 805.1 (relations with law enforcement agencies), and 805.2 (school security personnel).

Under the superintendent’s report, the board approve the resignation of high school golf coach Andy Neely, and transfer of Barb Sick from asst. golf coach to head coach effective Aug. 30, and appointment of Curt Pickett as asst. golf coach; the resignations of cafeteria workers Amy Kalinowski and Crystal Baltrusaitis; the appointment of long term Intermediate Center substitute teacher Karen DePietro; the approval of physician services by Dr. Rodger Sayre; the approvals for one year of school security officers Brendan Tomaino and Paul Maleski as school security officers; and the awarding of tenure to Kellie Wynne and Michael Franza, as of Sept. 5.


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Boro hears about speed mitigation

Residents concerned about drivers speeding through town addressed Factoryville Borough Council last week with “solution-based suggestions.”

Joy Yunko and Lou Jasikoff represented the Reduce the Speed Committee, which met twice in preparation for council’s Sept. 9 meeting.

People may have noticed “drive like your kids live here” signs popping up around the borough, an effort from concerned locals.

“Since that time, it seems like there’s an awful lot of interest in our community to start slowing people down,” Jasikoff said. “We’re looking for solutions from the community, from council, law enforcement, the college and PennDOT.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he added.

Yunko suggested a “comprehensive traffic calming program” to include community education and other ways of raising awareness, such as a blurb in the borough newsletter.

“Law enforcement has been involved with us,” she noted. Yunko and others at the meeting commended the Dalton Borough Police Department for its efforts.

The proposal also included a suggestion to tag the license plates of speed limit violators with strategically placed cameras among others.

President Charles Wrobel said he believes the main way to stop frequent offenders is fines, not signs.

While taking these suggestions under advisement, he said asking Dalton Police for additional hours for a few weeks at the right times could catch people who exceed the speed limit daily.

In his report, Mayor Gary Evans said according to the Dalton Police report for August, officers responded to 31 calls in Factoryville, issued 35 traffic citations and patrolled 1,255 miles in 128 hours.

In other business, council adopted an amendment to the borough’s property maintenance ordinance, which allows the code official to take certain legal or corrective actions when a property owner fails to do so.

Becki Nelson, borough assistant, updated council on progress with getting landlords licensed as part of Factoryville’s new rental ordinance. At this point, she said there’s more landlords licensed than not, but it’s still a work in progress.

Before adjourning, members entered an executive session to discuss enforcement actions related to the rental ordinance.

Council also gave Jen Saslo, the borough’s grant writer, permission to submit an application to the state Department of Transportation for the Multimodal Transportation Fund by the end of September.

If successful, funding would be used for the Clinton Township Pedestrian Safety Project to connect Creekside Park and Christy Mathewson Park through a walking trail. Saslo said for this round of grants, the borough wouldn’t need to provide matching funds.

Factoryville Manager Mary Ellen Buckbee reminded that the Creekside Park Board, a joint effort with Clinton Township, still needs another member on the borough’s side.

Sharing some positive news, she told council there hasn’t been issues lately with the recycling trailer that both municipalities share, which has a history of misuse.

Council also agreed to pay $6,400 into the borough’s employee pension plan as its annual minimum municipal obligation for two full-time employees.

Factoryville Borough Council is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m.