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NASD parents surveyed on in-person instruction

Parents and guardians in Northampton Area School District are being surveyed as to when they would be confident for their children to attend in-person classroom instruction four or five days a week.

Meanwhile, NASD was notified of two more confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) at Northampton Area High School. This brings the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in NASD to five, with four at NAHS and one at Northampton Area Middle School.

“The high school will remain open at this time,” stated the Oct. 10 letter to NASD parents, guardians and staff.

“The two individuals are from the same household, and the students last attended school Oct. 6.

“The classrooms and spaces used by the individuals were cleaned and disinfected according to CDC guidelines.

“Staff members and students who may have come into close contact (any individual within 6 feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes) with the individuals will be directly contacted by their local health department with instructions to self-quarantine.”

The letter includes recommended protocol intended to mitigate community spread of the coronavirus.

A Sept. 14 letter alerted parents, guardians and staff that NASD was notified Sept. 14 of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at NAHS.

A Sept. 10 letter notified parents, guardians and staff that NASD was alerted Sept. 10 of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at NAMS. Another letter sent the same day stated NASD was notified of a confirmed case at NAHS.

The letters are posted on the NASD website, nasdschools.org, under COVID-19 Information.

In the hybrid system implemented by NASD for the 2020-21 school year, students attend school in person two days, either Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays, are online one other day and are at home Mondays for teacher and administrator consultations.

The 2020-21 school year began Aug. 31 with the first day of in-class instruction Sept. 1.

A return to full-time in-class instruction couldn’t happen too soon for some district residents, who told school officials at the Oct. 12 board of education meeting they want NASD schools to reopen for full-time in-class instruction.

In a related announcement at the school board meeting, attendance capacity for the Oct. 16 varsity football team’s first home game of the 2020 season in Al Erdosy Memorial Stadium, Northampton, will remain at approximately the same previously announced limits, in keeping with recently revised venue guidelines announced by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik said to the residents at the school board meeting that he doesn’t disagree with their requests to reopen schools, but it’s a matter of how to do so safely for students, teachers, administrators and staff.

“If we could, I’d have everyone back today,” Kovalchik said. “But we have to follow the guidelines.

“We can’t just bring back 5,500 students,” Kovalchik said during the non-agenda public comment portion of the meeting, held in the NAMS cafeteria.

“We are going to continue talking with area health officials,” Kovalchik said, referring to St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network experts.

“I, more than anyone, want to have people back,” Kovalchik said. “When you’re responsible for 5,500 students and 600 employees, you’d better be sure you’re doing the right thing.”

A survey of parents and guardians concerning their support for a return to in-class instruction was to have been distributed the week of Oct. 11.

Kovalchik said if and when NASD schools would reopen for full-time in-class instruction, it would be done in phases, starting possibly with kindergarten, first and second grades; then third, fourth and fifth grades; and, finally, sixth through 12th grades.

Online instruction would continue for students and their parents and guardians who prefer it.

Of 5,500 NASD students, 25 percent, or 1,400 students, participate in Kids eLearning and 100 students participate in Northampton Cyber Academy.

Kovalchik said maintaining parallel education instruction, that of in class and online, presents staffing and budgetary challenges.

“We have to make sure we have the staff. If you’re going to hire 10 teachers, it could cost $1 million,” Kovalchik said.

Wolf issued new guidelines for venues Oct. 6, whereby the allowable outdoor rate is 20 percent for a facility of maximum occupancy of 2,001-10,000. Al Erdosy Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 5,000.

Approximately 750 to 800 are expected to be able to attend the 7 p.m. Oct. 16 football game when the NAHS Konkrete Kids varsity football team faces the Liberty High School Hurricanes varsity football team.

Regarding the allowable state guidelines for capacity at the stadium, “We’re basically at that,” Kovalchik said.

No general admission tickets will be sold at the stadium gate.

NAHS seniors on the football team, in the Big “N” Band or who are cheerleaders will each be given five ticket vouchers for the game.

NAHS students who are on the football team, in the band or who are cheerleaders will each be given four ticket vouchers.

Students from the visiting team who are on the football team, in the band or who are cheerleaders will each be given two vouchers.

During the courtesy of the floor portion of the school board meeting, it was mentioned the neighboring Catasauqua Area School District has in-class teaching five days per week for the 2020-21 school year.

Catasauqua only has 1,300 students, 50 percent of whom are said to have opted for online instruction.

Here is a sampling of comments from district residents attending the Oct. 12 school board meeting:

“What are our plans to reopen the schools?” Paul Nikisher, of Walnutport, asked. “We have Catty right down the road and they’re open. There’s many students in my area who want to go back. You see them playing basketball and they’re not getting the virus. It’s overblown.”

“Based on what you say, kids are not going to be back before 2021,” Kim Bretzik, of Moore Township, said. “Everyone knows kids are falling through the cracks. What are we going to do to catch them?”

“COVID went through my family,” Jerry Pritchard, of Lehigh Township, said. “You must honor the wishes of your school district.”

“Kids are supposed to be going to school. They’re not supposed to be on the computer,” Jerry Bretzik, of Moore Township, said. “These kids need five days a week in-person school.”

Jerry Bretzik presented information concerning the coronavirus at the meeting.

“I just want to thank the school board for allowing us to speak out,” he said.

The NASD Board of Education next meets 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in the cafeteria of NAMS, 1617 Laubach Ave., Northampton. Face masks and socially distanced seating are required.