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Masking matrix to be reviewed by the board

On Jan. 12, following an executive session to discuss a personnel issue, the school board held the first work session meeting of 2022. Work session meetings are a combination of the curriculum and technology committee and the operations committee which is a new format this year.

The meeting began with the board extending a welcome to the two newest members, Joseph Kuzo and Thomas Spinner. Kuzo and Spinner were among three candidates interviewed at a special board meeting which was held Jan. 6. After the selection process was conducted the new members were sworn in and will now serve two year terms.

The meeting started with a presentation on debt summary from Zach Williard, managing director, for PFM Financial Advisors. PFM has been working with the Salisbury School District for more than 15 years in an effort to advise the district when it comes to issuing debt for refinancing purposes and new projects.

Willard presented debt schedules for three possible scenarios which include combinations of renovations and expansions of existing buildings coupled with the possibility of a new building. He outlined a plan to phase the borrowing into the budget over multiple years.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Christine Stafford presented the 2022-2023 preliminary budget for the board’s review. The budget proposes a raise in the Act 1 Index to 3.4 percent which equates to a $127 increase for homeowners based on the median assessed value of homes in the district. The budget will be submitted to the state with a deficit of $1.8 million.

The health and safety plan for the district was a hot topic. Several board members spoke with Dr. Jennifer Janco, chair of pediatrics, St. Luke’s; Dr. Rajika Reed, vice president of community health and Dr. John Hauth, senior director of sports medicine, St. Luke’s to discuss the health professionals’ recommendations.

Board President Sarah Nemitz summarized the conversation by saying that while community case counts are very high it is primarily due to exposure during the holidays and not necessarily from children being in school. School, the experts believe, is the best place for our children both physically and mentally. They emphasized any mask is a good mask as long as it is worn. They also reinforced their mitigation strategies for COVID-19, in order of importance, are vaccination, masking, distancing and hygiene. Any changes in guidance for schools will be based on community data for Lehigh County.

Superintendent Lynn Fuini-Hetten noted the reduction in quarantine time based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines. She also introduced the idea of a tiered face covering matrix she and other superintendents created as a tool districts could implement when determining whether to maintain masking or change to optional masking.

Using local data, it takes into account several factors such as community case counts, building case counts and vaccination rates to decide what level of masking is necessary.

After much discussion among board members both for and against masking, Nemitz remarked if the district were to adopt the matrix as our plan it would essentially take the masking decision out of the board’s hands and we can move forward with this issue.

School nurse Lynn Welliver was asked by the board what she is seeing in the schools. She is concerned without masking in place the district will have more students in close contact and therefore will need to be quarantined which will cause them to miss school. She also reported the amount of students needing to be quarantined has been high even though the case counts in schools have not been that high.

Ultimately, the board decided to take the time to further review the matrix presented and bring an updated version to the next meeting.

During the curriculum and technology portion of the meeting, the 2022-2023 district calendar was presented as well as the changes to the high school program of studies. These items will be reviewed and brought up for approval at the next school board meeting.

Salisbury Middle School Assistant Principal Rob Sawicki gave an update on the world language program. Currently, both Spanish and German are taught at the middle school level.

Salisbury Elementary Principal Zachary Brem reported on the success of the Dec. 8, 2021 Family Engagement Night. The focus was on Common Core Math skills and gave parents the opportunity to learn fun games to support learning at home.

Each family visited three teacher led stations emphasizing one math skill and several games to play to reinforce the concept. Thirty-nine families attended and were treated to Yocco’s hot dogs, pizza and baked goods. There was a lot of positive feedback from parents and there are two more family engagement events planned for this year. One event will focus on STEM and another on social emotional learning.