Valley superintendents are disappointed but not surprised by Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to close schools for the remainder of the academic year.
After shutting down schools through April last week, the governor announced Thursday he was canceling in-person classes through the end of the academic year.
Line Mountain superintendent Dave Campbell said he feels bad for the students missing out on the final three months of in-person school, beyond the instruction.
"I am disappointed for all our students as they will be missing out on all the end of years activities rewarding them for all their hard work," he said. "Most specifically, our senior class as they will miss out on a lifetime of end of senior year memories."
His sentiment was echoed by many Valley school leaders.
"I think, along with all superintendents, I was both glad to hear it so that we could more definitively make plans to support our staff, students, and parents while at the same time saddened that we would not be coming back to experience all the spring events that are part of a school year," said Lewisburg Area School District Superintendent Steve Skalka. "We are committed to holding senior events such as prom and graduation when it is safe to do so. I would strongly discourage any student or parent efforts to hold such events in direct opposition to the advice of medical professionals regarding social distancing and large group meetings."
The decision offers some clarity for school officials who had been trying to determine what steps to take. "We will begin working to formalize our district's plans to finish the school year and define end-of-year activities as appropriate," Dan Lichtel, Mifflinburg Area School District superintendent, said. "We expect to work to make sure students can be promoted to the next grades next year, and that seniors can graduate this June. We will need to determine what graduation will look like."
"While the closure does not come as a great surprise to us, it is still disappointing that the school year will not end with any sense of normalcy" Selinsgrove Area School District Superintendent Chad Cohrs said. "The safety of our staff and students is the primary concern."
School leaders also continue to implement distance learning programs. They all acknowledged the challenges ahead but said teachers, parents and administrators will do what it takes to educate the Valley's students.
Campbell said challenges will remain to appropriately educate students for the final two months of classes.
"I believe no matter what we do online, we can never replicate the holistic learning process that daily face to face hands-on learning in public classrooms produces," he said. "Online resources are an additional tool we have been using to supplement and enrich classroom learning for years. I do not believe these tools are meant to replace this classroom instruction. I do not want anyone to assume that by providing these online review and enrichment activities that we can deliver online over the next 7 weeks what we do in classrooms."
Shikellamy School District Superintendent Jason Bendle said Shikellamy will continue its online learning and students are expected to do work from home.
“We will keep providing our students with academic opportunities,” Bendle said. “We want all of our students to participate as much as possible during this time.”
At Danville, Superintendent Ricki Boyle said the district has already rolled out distance-learning web pages for every teacher in every school. "It's hard to imagine not seeing the students and families at our buildings," she said in a video message to families. "The pages are being set up to ease some of the stress of being your child's teacher at home."
"This does not mean that the school year is over," Lichtel said. "We expect to continue providing meaningful learning opportunities to our students through the springtime, as we have already started to do over the past few weeks."
"While distance education is not ideal, it does allow education to continue," Cohrs said. "We will continue to refine our process as we shape the new future of public education."
Milton Area School District Superintendent Cathy Keegan said her district will "continue to provide a virtual learning environment and we will do our best to support our children and our families in these troubling times."
At Midd-West, Musselman said the uneven end of the school year may create challenges heading into next year. "Missing an entire marking period will require us to take a hard look at content for early next year," he said. "Students will have missed some important building blocks which will need to be recovered. The more our students can do at home for the remainder of this year the better off all of us will be when starting next year.
"Who knows, maybe this event will change public education. I’m not sure if that would be good or bad."