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Board chooses school option

Northampton Area School District is proceeding with a Route 329 project plan that might make Moore Elementary School available for use by the community and school district.

At the Sept. 12 board meeting in the Northampton Area High School auditorium, the NASD Board of Education chose a plan, from five presented, for the proposed elementary school and education center at Route 329.

The $70.3 million school project would be built at Route 329 and Seemsville Road, East Allen Township.

The school board approved Option 5: “Build a new elementary school and administration center on the district’s Route 329 property and close Moore Elementary School, but keep open sections for community and district use, and close Franklin Elementary School, the Washington building and the administration building. The district would have four elementary schools (George Wolf Elementary School, Lehigh Elementary School, Siegfried Elementary School and the new Route 329 elementary school).”

Option 4 was identical to Option 5, with the exception that Moore Elementary School would not be available for use.

Option 3 was identical to Option 5, with the exception that Franklin Elementary School and Moore Elementary School would close and no mention was made of the disposition of the Washington building, closing of the administration building and construction of a new administration building on the Route 329 property.

Option 2 was identical to Option 3, with the exception that Moore Elementary School would close and Franklin Elementary School would remain open.

Option 1 was identical to Option 3, with the exception that Franklin Elementary School would close and Moore Elementary School would remain open.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik emphasized to school directors and the public at the board meeting that choosing an option was required for advertising an Act 34 hearing in advance of the hearing.

The Act 34 of 1973 requires a public hearing be held for school construction and major renovation projects.

Kovalchik said approval of Option 5 does not lock the school board into that option, adding, “That does not mean that the district is now going to build a facility or renovate facilities.”

The NASD administration sought guidance from the board for the project booklet that must be prepared for a public hearing.

The Act 34 public hearing was announced for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 in the cafeteria at Northampton Area Middle School, 1617 Laubach Ave., Northampton.

In other business, school directors discussed having a district transgender policy, ultimately deciding against a policy.

School Director Doug Vaughn requested the board discuss the topic of NASD having a policy.

“I wanted to see if [a policy] is appropriate to apply to transgender students. Everyone needs to be protected,” Vaughn said.

“I spoke with the state school boards association,” said James Chuss, board president. “I asked if any (transgender) polices were challenged. According to the PSBA, they are not aware of any (transgender) policy that has not been challenged.

“So far, every school board that has tried to create a (transgender) policy would be defeated,” Chuss said. “I think we would be opening up to lawsuits and wasting the taxpayers’ money.”

“I assume we have transgender students in the district?” asked school Director John Becker.

“Yes, we do,” answered Kovalchik.

“Have we had any problems?” asked Becker.

“None that I am aware of,” answered Kovalchik.

“If a student identifies as transgender, the student, along with parents, meet with administrators and a plan is developed,” Kovalchik said. “That’s the way we’ve been doing it.”

“Devising a (transgender) policy would be extremely dangerous,” said school Director Robert Mentzell, adding, “If Pennsylvania can’t and other school districts can’t, how can Northampton pass a policy?”

“I do feel that the way the district administration is approaching it is appropriate,” said school Director Kim Bretzik.

“I don’t think we should have a (transgender) policy for now,” said school Director Chuck Frantz.

“I think we should stay status quo for now,” said school Director David Gogel.

“I think the way we’ve been handling this is fine,” said school Director Ross Makary.

“I think we should have a (transgender) policy,” said Vaughn, “but I respect the other opinions of the members of the board.”

Also on the agenda during the three-hour-plus meeting was the videotaping of the board meetings, expected to begin with the Nov. 14 meeting, and a presentation on the NASD State Academic Scores Report 2021-22, which revealed student academic performance in the district took a downturn, attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

The first draft of the streaming of meetings policy was reviewed by school directors.

The plan is for the district to videotape school board meetings and post the videotape within 24 hours on the district website. The videotape of the meeting would be available for approximately 30 days or until the minutes of the meeting are approved.

“There is a plan for redacting,” said Kovalchik, referring to “a student’s name or any area that would violate district policy or state or federal law.”

The first reading of the policy was at the Sept. 12 meeting. The second reading is expected at the next board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in the NAHS auditorium, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.

“Can I have some legal definition of profane content?” asked Bretzik. “When a resident says, ‘We should all be voted out,’ would that be a threat?”

“I feel the interpretation of this could be taken too broadly,” said Bretzik. “I do have a concern about restricting the constituents. I am not in favor of this redaction policy.”

NASD Solicitor Atty. C. Steven Miller said, “The policy goal is not all inclusive. It says ‘of school board business.’

“It has to relate to school district business. This redaction has to do with that,” Miller said.

“This is one of those sentences that can go either way,” Miller said, referring to the sentence about redaction of comments or gestures at a school board meeting that could violate policies.

Kovalchik, who would review a school board meeting videotape, along with Chuss, said, “We’re going to be calling the attorney if we’re going to be redacting this.”

“If this streaming goes out, that’s fine,” Miller said. “The purpose of this streaming is that the public can see it the next day. That’s all this is. Maybe the way to go is to stream as much as you can.”

“The only thing is that there are some gestures you might not want going out there,“ said school board Director Dr. Michael Baird.

“I agree with Atty. Miller, that we should redact as little as possible. That’s the purpose of videotaping the meetings. People should see what goes on,” said Becker.

“The more I think about it, we should let it all out,” said Miller.

Kovalchik and NASD Assistant Superintendent Michelle Schoeneberger discussed the NASD State Academic Scores Report 2021-2022.

The report reviews five school years in the district, 2018-19 to 2022-23, with an emphasis on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students’ academic performance.

The report’s results are based on student test scores for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment and Keystone Exams.

PSSA tests students in English Language Arts (grades 3-8), mathematics (grades 3-8) and science (grades 4 and 8).

Keystone Exams are given at the end of algebra I, literature and biology courses.

The PSSA and Keystones summary is, “Overall 2021-22 proficiency levels are lower than pre-COVID years.”

The 2018-19 school year was a full school year before the pandemic. No state assessments were administered in the 2019-20 school year. Schools were closed for in-person learning as of March 2020. The 2020-21 school year was a hybrid learning year. Full-time in-person learning returned in the 2021-22 school year.

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Northampton Area School District Assistant Superintendent Michelle Schoeneberger and NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik present the NASD State Academic Scores Report 2021-22 at the Sept. 12 school board meeting.