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School board approves 2021-22 health, safety plan

At the Whitehall-Coplay School Board meeting July 12, the board met in person - for the first time since the onset of the pandemic - in the large group instruction room at Whitehall High School.

The board approved the American Rescue Plan/Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Health and Safety Plan, effective Aug. 10. Whitehall-Coplay School District has until Aug. 9 to make revisions to its plan.

Before the vote, WCSD parent Alison Ruta raised objections to the continuation of pandemic restrictions in schools during the 2021-22 academic year. Ruta expressed concerns about the long-term physical and psychological effects of mask wearing and said continuing contact tracing at WCSD would create “another disruptive learning year.”

“Parent choice for masks and vaccines is what is needed for these children,” Ruta said. “I hope there will be no segregation or discrimination in our classrooms, lunch rooms and outside. Mask optional, vaccine optional, no contact tracing, no discrimination or segregation.”

WCSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Steckel said the district is following guidance from the federal government’s recovery plan. WCSD’s preliminary health and safety plan must be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education by July 31.

Part of the proposed ARP ESSER Health and Safety Plan draft, communicated to district parents July 7, states, “Staff and students will comply with any federal, state or local mandates regarding masking. If no mandate/requirement exists, the use of masks will be encouraged but optional for staff and students.”

Social distancing will be practiced to “the maximum extent feasible without impacting programs or restricting access to facilities.”

Seating charts will be used by staff to help with any necessary contact tracing. Students or staff who are confirmed to have been in close contact with an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for WCSD to remain compliant with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidance.

Steckel said the school district received new guidance from the CDC June 9 but is still waiting for information from Pennsylvania Department of Education and local health care providers.

According to Steckel, there has been talk of holding an open forum with legislators, and WCSD is collaborating with other Lehigh Valley school districts.

“We’re going to take the next month and look at our plan as it is,” Steckel said. “If revisions need to occur, we could potentially recommend them to the board, but, as is, the draft plan that was sent to all families last week is the draft that is being put to the board tonight.

“We’re looking to get a lot more specific with different aspects of the plan, including - most importantly - our continuity of learning,” Steckel added. “What are we doing to make sure that we are able to provide a comprehensive education for all students as we continue to emerge from this pandemic? We’re looking to make sure we balance the risks of the virus with the risks of the mitigation strategies to our students’ and staff’s mental health and learning as we move forward.”

Steckel said the district is focusing on taking the necessary steps to remain in compliance with federal and state guidance.

“We’re going to continue to have this conversation,” Steckel said. “We’re going to continue to inform parents and let you know what our recommendations are to the board before the board meetings, so that you can provide us with feedback as we go through this process this school year.”

He noted 40 days remain until school starts, giving the district time to plan based on future pandemic guidance and developments.

In other news, Steckel thanked Staples’ Whitehall location and the store’s general manager, Aregny Vasquez, for the donation of school supplies, tissues, hand sanitizer, technology items and office supplies.

Also at the meeting, Shari Noctor, president of Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative, discussed bringing Snack Pack Pals, a program that addresses food insecurity for district students, back into WCSD buildings in September. Steckel said a decision will be made in August.

In other business, the board approved United States Fire Insurance Company, AG Administrators, through Macolino Risk Management Inc., as the provider of student and athletic accident insurance for the 2021-22 school year, at the cost of $87,780, increased from the 2020-21 annual rate of $79,800.

The optional K-12 student accident insurance premium for the 2021-22 school year, paid for by parents, will remain at the 2020-21 rate of $28 per year for coverage during school time and $124 per year for 24-hour coverage.

The board approved a contract with Cetronia Ambulance Corps for standby emergency medical services at sporting events.

The board approved the Community Services for Children Inc. Pre K Counts Program for the 2021-22 school year at Steckel Elementary School.

Also approved was a contract with Blackboard for Blackboard Web Community software. Blackboard will offer parents and students a mobile WCSD app, with the option to receive push notifications to alert families of school closings and other important information. According to Steckel, this will improve communication between the district and families and will offer a one-stop way to access a simplified version of WCSD’s website, PowerSchool and Google Classroom.

Approved resignations include Jessica Paulas, Leo Club adviser; Richard Tonnies, math teacher at Whitehall High School; Kristine Eichelberger, math department leader at WHS; Nicholas Riedy, custodial summer help; Nicole Hodrick, fifth-grade teacher at Zephyr Elementary School; and Thomas Falzone, social studies teacher at WHS.

New appointments include Kayla Snyder, ESL teacher at Zephyr and Whitehall-Coplay Middle School, at a salary of $58,766; Gayle Ganser, first-grade teacher at Gockley Elementary School, at a revised salary of $65,243; and Michele Muenker, promoted from a temporary to a permanent reading specialist at Zephyr, at a salary of $62,776.

New temporary professionals include Vanessa Blose, English teacher at WHS, at a salary of $53,212; Nicole Capuano, English teacher at WHS, at a salary of $53,259; Morgan Litzenberger, math teacher at WHS, at a salary of $53,212; Kathlyn Macalintal, math teacher at WHS, at a salary of $57,082.

Also approved was a transfer and decrease in hours for Jennifer Hittinger, fourth-grade learning support paraprofessional at Zephyr, at the rate of $20.02 per hour.

Approved summer school teachers for the June 21-July 8 session, at the contract rate of $36 per hour, include Jessica Englert, WCMS; Ashley Koren, Zephyr; Erin Schmidt, Gockley, Steckel and Zephyr; and Angela Christman and Amber Berg, substitutes at Gockley, Steckel and Zephyr. Also approved was Roscaline Lesisko, summer school elementary nurse assistant, at the contract rate of $25 per hour, a revision to the June 14 board agenda.

Coach appointments include Victoria Marzen, assistant cheerleading coach, at the rate of $2,447; Emily Unger, assistant cheerleading coach, volunteer; Kaylea Dietrich, WCMS cheerleading coach, $2,447; Justice Mousseau, WCMS cheerleading coach, volunteer; Michael Fabian, assistant cross country coach, $2,046; Hannah Gill and Rhiannon Sorrentino, WCMS cross country coaches, at $2,046 each; Mikayla Ninos, assistant field hockey coach, volunteer; James Kurtz, assistant field hockey coach, $1,227; Gabrielle Smith, assistant field hockey coach, $2,454; Peter Kreisher, Kyle Beller, Shawn Clary, Isaiah Gills, Justin Kondikoff, Thomas Wills and Dennis Roman, assistant football coaches, at $5,044 each; Erick Hatch, Larry Russell, Chad Stefanyak and Steven Federok, assistant football coaches, at $2,522 each; George Cowitch, George Makhoul, Kasey Myers and Ronald Hannis, football assistant coach, volunteers; Stephen Piston and James Sebesta, WCMS football coaches, at $5,044 each; Jarred Muller, WCMS football coaches, volunteers; Todd Troxell, WCMS football coach, $2,522; Matthew Shultz, assistant golf coach, volunteer; Brandon Levano, Joshua Wunder, Vincente Bastidas, Todd Covert and Javaughn Hussett, boys assistant soccer coaches, volunteers; Trajano Bastidas and Photis Zographou, boys assistant soccer coaches, at $1,227 each; Vincent Santamaria, girls assistant soccer coach, $2,454; Scott Cullen, girls assistant soccer coach, volunteer; Blake Morgan, head softball coach, $6,410; Robert Panny, boys head tennis coach, $3,136; Tyler Miller, head track and field coach, $6,000; George Cowitch, boys head volleyball coach, $4,500; Douglas Barriner, girls assistant volleyball coach, $2,454; Jaclyn Smith and Hollie Matejcek, girls assistant volleyball coaches, volunteers; Katelynn Strohl, WCMS girls volleyball coach, $2,545; and Savanna Schmidt, WCMS, girls volleyball coach, volunteer.

Committee meetings on finance/personnel, education/student activities and operations/transportation will be held 4 p.m. Aug. 23.

The next school board meetings will be 7 p.m. Aug. 9 and Sept. 13.