The Tunkhannock Area School Board gave unanimous approval to plans to reopen two wings of the former Mehoopany Elementary School to allow for addressing what the district perceives as a need to emphasize social distancing, particularly in kindergarten, first and second grades.

The plan for identifying which students will be assigned to the nine classrooms in two wings of the school would obviously be to focus on those living in closest proximity to Mehoopany, chief operating officer Shane Powers said.

Following the meeting, Powers said the goal would be to have three classes of kindergarten, three of first and three of second grades at Mehoopany.

“We believe that the current best practices are to engage social distancing as an objective,” Powers added, implying it would be used in the classroom (where there would be roughly 12 students per classroom compared to closer to 18 in the school year just ended). Although not addressed directly, there seemed to be a concern given the state of the pandemic, about length of students’ bus rides as well.

Board member Lori Bennett asked if the measure were temporary.

Superintendent Heather McPherson said it was for one year only, with focuses on the primary grades “and gives us more space in town.”

She also noted that there would be no need for additional teachers.

A major part of Thursday’s meeting also was to discuss a meeting which had taken place earlier of the board’s Extracurricular and Building & Grounds’ subcommittees.

Board member Bill Prebola explained a pair of documents, he called a re-implementation plan for June 29-July 31 which looked at how extracurricular activities might be integrated following the school’s closure in the spring from the coronavirus pandemic.

He said they were nuts and bolts plans for Tunkhannock Area that spoke of limitations, cleaning after every sports encounter, hydrating students with no sharing of water bottles, “in other words how to get us safely involved in a gathering.”

“It’s been a monumental task, and I want to thank the administration and facilities folks, to where we are at this point,” Prebola said.

“We still have a big job ahead of us regarding cleaning after every activity, and then bringing coaches, parents and students involved with the procedures,” Prebola said.

He acknowledged that temperatures would be taken of coaches and players; and there was a protocol if a student has COVID-19.

“We have to keep good records and safety is paramount,” he said. “We’re going to follow the rules.”

He said that athletic trainer Charlotte Carpenter would be meeting with coaches, starting the next day (on Friday) and guiding the process of what’s required.

He said there was a third document included in the papers presented to the full board that must be signed by a parent or guardian which was a COVID 19-release form consistent with what other sports are currently using.

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, the board affirmed that the buildings which essentially were closed to the public until July 1, would now be so until August 1.

Powers said this would allow to make sure that extensive cleaning protocols were in place in each of the district’s buildings.

Asked by President Phil Farr if that meant that the public could not use the outdoor track, Powers said the intent was directed toward gatherings in buildings.

“The track has been open and we continue to support that,” she said.

The board also decided to cancel its only scheduled meeting for July on July 16 and will instead now meet in the high school auditorium on July 9 and July 23 at 7:30 p.m. They did discuss having another joint building & grounds and extracurricular meeting on July 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

In the public comment period, a question was raised about the school district’s performance on 18 standardized tests given during the 2018-19 school year.

The Scranton Times-Tribune in a story published June 21, noted that in 18 standardized tests Tunkhannock Area only met or exceeded the state average in six on them providing a grade of 33 percent. (This included tests given between grades three and 12).

McPherson fielded the concern and said she believed the performance was tied into the consolidation that was taking place and getting all students acclimated.

In other action, the board

  • approved a resolution to authorize McPherson and asst. supt. Mary Gene Eagen to act on behalf of the district for grant applications;
  • renewed insurance coverage for the upcoming school year with Tri-County Insurance;

allowed for the transfer of monies from the general fund to the cafeteria fund; and

approved the following grants: Safe School ($40,000); COVID-19 ($212,695); and ESSER Federal grant ($431,925).

In approving the superintendent’s report, they also approved the extracurricular appointments of fall coaches: weightlifting (William Bevan); cross country (Randy White); Football (Mike Marabell); Golf (Andrew Nealy); Field Hockey (Shelby Madden); Volleyball (Lynne Binner); Girls soccer (Nolan Robinson); Boys Soccer (Mark Stroney); as well as others; along with a list of volunteers.

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