EASTON, Pa. – Whether lower-level students in the Easton Area School District will get more days in the classroom this school year may be answered at an upcoming special meeting.
The Easton Area School Board will host a special meeting on Tuesday, March 9, during which members will vote on a plan proposed last month by Superintendent David Piperato.
According to Piperato's plan, students in kindergarten through second grade would return to in-person instruction four days a week. Wednesdays would remain for remote instruction and allow maintenance to deep clean facilities.
Currently, students in the hybrid learning model in the district have in-person instruction two days a week.
An actual date for when the expanded in-person plan would begin, should the board approve it, could also be revealed at the meeting.
Medical professionals from St. Luke's Hospital attended the board's virtual committee meeting Tuesday night to provide information about COVID-19 and to answer questions.
Dr. Rajika Reed, senior network director of epidemiology and strategy at St. Luke's, told board members that the level of spread in the district has decreased in recent weeks.
However, the district's potential COVID-19 transmission rate number is higher than recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a blended learning model. The current district positivity rate is 8%.
Piperato said as of Tuesday, both the middle school and one elementary school had to temporarily close due to positive COVID-19 cases. In addition, there are five active cases at the high school. If there are more positive cases, the high school will have to move to fully remote instruction.
Dr. John Hauth, senior director for sports medicine relationships at St. Luke's, said there is hope on the horizon with the newest announcement of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine being approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, he said, vaccinating teachers remains a priority in order to have a successful restart of schools.
"The big issue is the fact that we have certainly a major decrease in cases, and we have many, many more [people] that want the vaccine than what's available," said Hauth.
According to Hauth, of the 3.9 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines being delivered throughout the U.S., only a small percentage of those will be issued to Pennsylvania.
"You can probably try and figure out how much we're likely to get," he said. "Therein lies the issue."
According to a staff survey conducted by the Easton Area Education Association, among the 154 teachers who responded to the survey, only 16% said they were OK with a full return to school, while 48% said they were not comfortable with such a return and 36% answered "maybe."
Under Piperato's plan, students would remain in one classroom for the entire instruction day, with teachers moving from room to room when necessary. Students would also be at a minimum of 4 feet distant, not the 6 feet recommended by the CDC.
In addition, teachers and administrators would be required to double mask and maintain a 6-foot distance from students whenever possible. Teachers would be provided personal protective equipment upon request and they would not be permitted to eat lunch with one another.
The district also surveyed some 2,286 parents with children in kindergarten through fifth grade regarding a potential return. Of those surveyed, 91.1% indicated they were comfortable with having their children attend in-person instruction with a 3-to-6-foot distance.
In addition, 60% said they would like to change their child's current learning model, with most indicating they would be willing to change to a model that offers four days a week in school.
A total of 59.4% of parents indicated they were comfortable with the district's current mitigation efforts.