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Updated East Penn School District health and safety plan resolution passes

The East Penn Board of School Directors voted 8-1 to amend the district’s health and safety plan at the Nov. 9 virtual regular meeting.

The board held a moment of silence in memory of Donna Seagreaves before going ahead with deliberations. School Superintendent Kristen Campbell fondly paid tribute to the administrative assistant for the business office who died Oct. 28. Seagreaves worked for the district for 33 years.

The updated health and safety plan replaces references to “red, yellow and green phases” with “spread, minimal/moderate spread and low/no spread.” The resolution states, “the requirement in the substantial spread phase that schools remain closed to in-person instruction be temporarily suspended until Dec. 14 pending further input from the members of the East Penn School District health and safety plan task force.”

This gives the superintendent flexibility to take responsibility for the decision to continue with the district’s hybrid model or to return to remote learning on a building by building basis.

Upon consultation with the directors, the superintendent will have the authority to mandate remote learning in the “substantial spread” phase based on the following criteria:

• An inability to adequately and safely staff district buildings develops.

• There is a high risk to the health of the school community.

• There are significantly increased numbers of confirmed or probable cases.

• Updated recommendations are provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

• The benefits of in-person learning become outweighed by the impact of future state mandated regulations.

Most directors supported the amendments after being informed the small number of reported outbreaks in each of the affected schools were not a result of transmission within the buildings. So far, it was explained, the social distancing, mask mandates and screening protocols were working. Several expressed relief there was an end date, that it was not left open ended.

Naomi Winch was the only “nay” vote. She expressed concerns COVID-19 cases were spiking within the state as well as within Lehigh County. She also expressed confidence the President-elect will handle the pandemic better than the current one, once he takes office in January 2021.

Before the vote, requests to address the board were granted to five individuals with much praise for and some questions about the changes to the district’s health and safety plan.

Gina Arnold, of Macungie, said she had three children enrolled in the hybrid plan. She supported the health and safety plan, but asked administration to only close a building where an outbreak has developed and not the entire district.

Emmaus resident Everette Henry, who also has three kids in the district, described how the hybrid in-person learning had worked well for his family. He said their grades had plummeted with remote-only learning, but rebounded when they returned to the classroom for face-to-face instruction. He encouraged the district to “stay the course.”

Alicen Bailey-Silfies commented on the recent closing of Emmaus High School Nov. 10-16 due to four reported COVID-19 cases. The Macungie Road resident has a daughter at the high school. She asked if school athletics would be shut down too. Bailey-Silfies questioned why students in sports appeared to be treated differently than students in clubs.

Anne Keller-Smith, of Emmaus, encouraged the board to follow the state COVID-19 guidelines and return to virtual instruction at this time. She cited the recent infection spike in the community and the need to protect the more vulnerable family members of students. She revealed a recent cancer diagnosis. Although her son had already graduated from EHS, Keller-Smith was concerned for others with health issues whose children could potentially bring the virus home.

1991 EHS graduate Matt Hunter questioned how the revised district plan “diverges” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county or state health department guidelines. The Upper Milford Township resident is the father of a 2020 EHS graduate and has a son enrolled at Eyer Middle School.

In her district update, Campbell announced she received positive feedback regarding the “successful and safe” fall sports season, with coaches, trainers, student athletes and their families adhering to pandemic protocols.

The district just started offering a free weekend and holiday meal program for those 18 and under. Campbell said details can be found on the East Penn website.

The superintendent reported the administration is still seeking applicants for support staff jobs.

The high school program of studies for 2021-2022, which had been presented to the board at the previous meeting, was approved unanimously.

EHS Student Government Association members Grace Comfort and Bella Haigney listed fall season scholar athletes and announced a successful virtual Spirit Week. A virtual Homecoming Court is in the works. They reminded the directors the organization will be donating funds earmarked for the canceled Homecoming Dance to the Angel Network and other charities. Alisa Bowman commended this generous action as showing “a lot of class.”

In personnel matters, the directors acknowledged the retirement of Eyer Middle School custodian Timothy Smith, effective January 2021.

EHS physics teacher Kathryn Donnelly’s resignation, effective Nov. 12, was accepted by the board.

Alexis Glenn was approved to begin working Jan. 28, 2021 as a special education teacher at Macungie Elementary School.

Assistant Superintendent Douglas Povilaitis discussed updated policies on discipline of students with disabilities, behavior support, confidentiality of special education student information and “Local Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” He also introduced new “Trauma-Informed Approach” and “Educational Equity” policies.

Vice President Paul Champagne volunteered to retain his seat on the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute Joint Operating Committee for another 3-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023.

He mentioned LTCI is hosting a virtual open house Nov. 10-12 for students interested in a technical education.

President Ken Bacher said there was an executive session Nov. 6 regarding personnel. He added there was an executive session held before the evening’s public meeting 6:30 p.m. on “personnel and a matter of confidentiality.”

Bacher announced the district will be closed for Thanksgiving Nov. 26-30.

The East Penn School Board meets regularly 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The annual reorganization meeting is to be held Dec. 7. The next regular board meeting is scheduled Dec. 14. The public can access documents through BoardDocs and attend virtual meetings online via a link on the district website.