SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. – Parkland School District board member David Kennedy asked Tuesday that students be brought back to classrooms full time.
"We owe it now to our taxpayers and the students to get back to school full time," Kennedy said. Parkland has been providing hybrid and online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several comments from parents during Tuesday's board meeting cited Centers for Disease Control guidelines for resuming full-time classes.
Kennedy said he may ask for a resolution on full-time classes at the board's next meeting or the first meeting in March. "Come up with a plan and let's get it done," he said.
"As soon as possible and as soon as it's safe to do so," Superintendent Richard Sniscak said later in the meeting. He said the CDC guidance says decisions on reopening should be based on factors specific to schools.
COVID-19 is spreading faster in Lehigh County now than when school started in August, Sniscak said, adding that recent statistics do indicate a decline in transmission.
Parkland has followed guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing, he said. However, increasing in-person instruction will not allow the district to maintain six feet of distancing, and under Pennsylvania guidelines, vaccinating teachers and staff is not a priority, Sniscak added.
Board President David Hein backed Sniscak's position, saying the district wants regular classes to resume when they can be held safely.
Several comments submitted by parents criticized hybrid learning as insufficient. Some commended teachers for doing their best during a difficult year.
"Now is the time to put the kids first and reopen the schools," parents Tony and Sherry Sarko said.
Another parent, Laura Morgan, said private schools that have stayed open full time during the pandemic may pick up some Parkland transfers. "The cure cannot be worse than the disease," she said.
Pandemic-related closings started last March. No timetable was given for a return to full-time classes in district schools.
The board heard from Scott Shearer, managing director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC, who said the district could save about $500,000 by refinancing two bond issues due in 2029. The district can take advantage of lower rates and not extend the terms of the debt, which totals about $14 million.
Shearer also said the district can borrow $15 million this year and $14 million in 2022 to fund capital projects, with "minimal budget impact."
The school board will decide on proceeding with the refinancing and new debt at its Feb. 23 meeting.
The board also heard from Pat Kelly of Slatington, who objected to "social engineering" in the district's equity inclusion plan. He asked the district to commit to keeping males and females in separate bathrooms and for boys not to be allowed to play sports on girls teams. Kelly said the district should stick to its mission of providing education.
Public comments were submitted online and read aloud by Sniscak during the meeting, which was broadcast on YouTube. The next meeting will be Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.