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District considering feasibility of a return to a full five day, in-person instructional model

The East Penn Board of School Directors gratefully accepted an initial contribution of $3,230 to be deposited in the East Penn School District Memorial Fund to establish the Craig James Salomon Scholarship Fund at the Feb. 22 virtual regular meeting.

The fund was established to support an annual scholarship for a graduating Emmaus High School senior. Salomon, an eighth grader from Eyer Middle School, died Dec. 8, 2020 at age 13. School Superintendent Kristen Campbell and board member Joshua Levinson each spoke kindly of Salomon.

Requests to address the board were granted to Amanda Osher and Ed McClain who criticized the board for not moving quickly to reopen the schools to five day in-person instruction.

“The school board doesn’t care about me, or what I have to say about these issues,” Osher said as she quoted her daughter, a student at Lower Macungie Middle School. Osher accused the district of paying more attention to teacher’s concerns and not those of students.

While saying he appreciated the district’s efforts at hybrid learning, East Penn parent Ed McClain argued that with data supporting children are less likely to catch or spread COVID-19, mental health issues from pandemic-related isolation were more important.

“As we look to the spring, our district is considering the feasibility of a return to a full five day, in-person instructional model,” Campbell said as she explained the rationale behind the decisions implementing the hybrid and remote educational models. These were based on the district’s health and safety plan. She cautioned there are still variables to consider.

Campbell was supported by assistant superintendents Laura Witman and Douglas Povilaitis who pointed out the building and classroom sizes restricted how many students, teachers and support staff could safely fit, while maintaining six feet of mandatory social distancing, if everyone returned for in-person learning five days a week.

Director of Special Education Linda M. Pekarik described how they have been working with families of special needs students who require a more intensive learning environment. She said they are working to bring more of those students back into the buildings.

School solicitor Marc Fisher explained the legal issues driving the district’s decisions. Besides the need to follow the East Penn health and safety plan, they must follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and state mandates. When a district returns to a five day, in-person routine, the superintendent and board president must sign an attestation form stating the district will follow health guidelines protocol, that all staff and students must wear masks (with allowances for those with medical excuses) and everyone must be six feet apart during meals and mask breaks.

Fisher said if the Pennsylvania Department of Education receives complaints about violations of these rules, the district could be forced to return to all-remote instruction. Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs would also be affected.

Campbell and Treasurer Robert Saul presented a general expenditure overview of the 2021-2022 preliminary budget in a series of steps toward the adoption of a final budget planned for June 14.

Campbell explained they were looking to restore $1,646,700 in priorities cut from the previous budget due to pandemic-related financial concerns. These include adding an elementary teacher and a secondary teacher position, as well as additional summer maintenance and tech staff. Department and building budgets would be restored. Ready Math resources and a social emotional learning program would be included.

Saul walked the board through projected wage and benefit costs and percentage changes based on including the proposed additional personnel.

He also provided figures for other expenditures and revenue sources.

Saul presented information on the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act which includes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. There is a projected allocation of $2,783,509 of this grant for East Penn. “These are for nonrecurring emergency aid,” Saul said. The funds can be used for the next two years.

Potential uses of grant funds by the district could be applied to remediation programs to address learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation for after school and summer remediation programs and purchasing learning resources like Ready Math.

In her district update, Campbell announced March 1 begins online kindergarten registration for 2021-2022.

Applications for Lehigh Career and Technical Institute are currently available for interested students on the high school website’s counseling page. Applications are due March 3.

Campbell acknowledged the disparity in the shift calendar for hybrid learning and seeks to make adjustments in the April calendar.

Campbell said the virtual Mental Health Symposium continues through Feb. 28.

EHS Government Association representatives Grace Comfort and Bella Haigney informed the board they are working on creating more virtual activities for the student body. The pair reported 19 East Penn students in grades seven through 12 scored wins in the Scholastic Art and Music Awards.

Povilaitis explained he changed some of the colors as per board recommendations to the 2021-2022 East Penn School District student/teacher calendar to make it easier to differentiate between the colors.

After a third reading, changes to board policies addressing extracurricular activities, interscholastic athletics, sudden cardiac arrest and “nondiscrimination/discriminatory harassment – school and classroom practices” and the new policy for “discipline of a student convicted/adjudicated of sexual assault” were adopted.

The directors unanimously approved the 2021-2022 Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit general operating budget, the 2021-2022 Lehigh Carbon Community College operating, debt service and capital budgets and the 2021-2022 Lehigh Career & Technical Institute operating fund and academic center school budgets.

Representing LCCC, Ann Thompson discussed the college’s budget before the vote. She said, “The bottom line is, for the last eight years, LCCC has not increased the amount that they’ve asked the school districts to provide.” She explained East Penn will be asked to provide .2 percent less than last year. This is based on attendance. LCCC had experienced a decline in enrollment, as most colleges, due to the pandemic.

“We have over 50 transfer agreements with other schools,” Thompson said, which has helped the community college’s efforts to attract and retain students.

President Ken Bacher mentioned an executive session was held before the public session on “personnel matters, confidential matters and safety.”

The East Penn School Board meets 7:30 p.m. generally on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for March 8. The public can access documents through BoardDocs and attend meetings online via a link on the district website.