Midd-West holds public back-to-school presentation

Attendees at Midd-West School District's public meeting Wednesday of the reopening of school in August at the High School auditorium.

MIDDLEBURG — Elizabeth Clark has already decided that her 12-year-old son will attend cyber school in August but went to Midd-West School District's public meeting Wednesday evening to hear more details about the administration's plan to reopen school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My son has learning disabilities, and I'd like to know more information about that," said Clark.

During a 60-minute presentation followed by questions, Joseph Stroup, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, laid out preliminary plans to educate students based on whether Snyder County is in the green, yellow or red phase.

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A final plan will be drafted after obtaining public feedback and presented to the school board for approval on Aug. 10. The 2020-21 school year will begin Aug. 24.

"This is a big task and we need community support," said Stroup. The goal, he said, is a flexible and adaptable plan that provides a safe, quality education while giving students an opportunity to interact with others.

Students will have the option of attending classes in person, cyber school, online instruction with virtual classrooms or a hybrid.

Three more public meetings on the tentative plans will be held. A meeting is scheduled for tonight at Middleburg Elementary School; the Middle School on Monday and West Snyder Elementary School on Tuesday. All meetings are at 6 p.m. and the public is invited to sign up on the district website to keep the crowd under 250 or for instructions on attending a Zoom meeting.

Wednesday's meeting at the High School auditorium drew about 140 people, many of whom opted not to wear a mask despite face coverings being provided by the district.

Stroup shared survey results that showed 51 percent of respondents have some concerns about the reopening of the schools; 31 percent have no concerns and 18 percent are very concerned.

Masks were cited by 68 percent of survey takers as being the primary concern, with 13 percent worried that students won't wear them or follow social distancing guidelines.

Stroup said students and anyone 2 and older will be required to wear a mask inside school buildings to comply with state guidelines. He estimates between 10 and 20 percent of students will be exempted from wearing a mask due to a disability, medical or mental health condition. 

Students will be allowed to remove the mask while eating or drinking and seated at workspaces where the occupants are six feet apart. 

He said all the classrooms are large enough to allow students to remove masks while at their desks.

The biggest challenge is transportation since there is no opportunity for social distancing on a bus. All students on the bus will be required to wear a mask, and Stroup said parents are encouraged to provide transportation if possible. 

As he spoke on the stage, Stroup said he was unmasked because he was far enough from others to comply with the state and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. 

Sherry Blazer, a Geisinger social worker, said her 14-year-old daughter will return to in-school instruction in August.

"She didn't like virtual classes," said Blazer, who noted that while her daughter doesn't like wearing masks, "No one does." The school district, she added, "should just make a plan that complies with CDC guidelines and implement it."

Questions from the public ranged from whether recess and fall sports and other extracurricular activities will take place, with Stroup affirming students will be able to take part in recess, sports, band, chorus and other activities as long as social distancing is followed.

"We'll figure it out and make a way for it to happen," said Stroup.

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