As the statewide Coronavirus school shutdown enters its second week, Tyrone Area School District students and parents are wondering when, or even if, this school year will return to normal.
Any hope for students going back sooner rather than later were put to rest by Governor Wolf today as he extended the statewide mandatory school shut down until at least April 6.
All state academic tests, including the PSSA, Keystone Exams, and standardized tests for students in career and technical education have been cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year.
The PIAA also issued a statement today that athletics are postponed for another two weeks. They also stated that the swimming and basketball championships are still on-hold.
Because the decision to close the schools came from the state, Tyrone’s acting superintendent Leslie Estep has little control over when things may return to normal.
“We have learned from this ever-evolving national health crisis that we won’t always have the answers and information as quickly as we want it,” said Estep in an email interview.
As the crisis continues, most colleges and universities, as well as many public schools across the country, have moved to online instruction. However, due to the unique circumstances of this situation, this has been a difficult task for many public school districts, including Tyrone.
“We are only able to ‘officially’ conduct a virtual school when we can ensure that every teacher and student has access to reliable internet and a device,” says Estep.
According to Estep, under normal circumstances students who do not have internet access at home are able to download activities to their Chromebooks before leaving school, complete the work before or after school on campus, or pick up wifi at public places like the Tyrone library.
Unfortunately, with the school closed along with other public places like libraries and community centers, internet access for all students is not possible.
Another problem is ensuring that the needs of special education students can also be met with online instruction.
“We are obligated to provide students equal access to instruction as well. This means meeting the needs of all learning differences,” said Estep. “This [equal access] presents even more challenges when asked to change the way that we operate on the fly. Under normal circumstances, many of these things are manageable. Under these circumstances, this can be tricky.”
As challenging as this may be, Estep hopes that if the shutdown continues, some form of online education for TASD will be available in the coming weeks.
“For a traditional school to spin up a ‘virtual school’ takes time. This doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. It just means that we have to move in a carefully planned manner,” said Estep.
However, as time away from school mounts, teachers have been given directives by their school level principals to develop optional activities to their students.
Today TASD teachers received an email from Estep asking them to prepare five days of activities for students by Wednesday, March 25. The materials will be made available to students and parents. However, the teachers will not be permitted to assign grades to these assignments or require that the work be collected when the students return.
Along with the panic and stress that this crisis has caused, the abruptness of the school shut down on March 13 has made the situation more difficult.
“Although we knew that there could eventually be a chance that we would shut down for a time, we were really not expecting it to happen so soon. People are struggling to find emergency childcare and are asking what students can do to keep their skills sharp during the shutdown,” says Estep.
The state closure of non-essential building means that teachers are not even allowed in the building to retrieve books or supplies at this time.
“On the school side, the lack of specific answers about various educational issues have made it difficult to implement a plan,” says Estep.
However, in this time of confusion, there have also been bright spots.
“Several businesses [such as] Mac’s Market, Bake Shop Bakes, The Bull Pen, The Brew Coffee and Tap, and others, provided breakfast and lunch items for the community until the school meal program started later last week,” said Estep.
This week the school cafeteria began offering free meals to all children under 18 will be available on Mondays and Thursdays at the high school as well as several other locations in the district. For more information on the free meal program, click here.
At a time like this when confusion is rampant it is important to remain patient because we will not always get the answers as quickly as we want. The Eagle Eye will continue coverage as new questions are raised and answers are made.
“Students and parents should continue to check the district website and listen for messages from the district regarding additional resources and educational activities for students to work on during their time off,” Estep says.