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Harrisburg School District pushes forward with back to school plans, 100% virtual start

File photo of Receiver Janet Samuels

Back to school plans were cemented Monday night as Harrisburg school district Receiver Dr. Janet Samuels approved a completely virtual start to the 2020-21 academic year.

“This plan has evolved multiple times since June,” Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer said during the virtual school board meeting. “We have worked extremely hard, the team has worked extremely hard to put together a template to allow us, when ready, to safely transition back to in-person.”

The Harrisburg school district publicly released plans for back-to-school this past week.

According to Celmer, students and their families can choose one of two options for the upcoming year. Both paths have students starting the year with virtual learning.

The first option is the “Pathway to Classroom Instruction.” If chosen, students are looking at a three-phase plan leading up to re-entry to their brick-and-mortar school. The first phase is online instruction, which includes live lessons and individual work.

“A schedule for at-home learning will look pretty similar to a schedule that a child might have in school when they attend school every day,” Chief Academic Officer Susan Sneath said.

The time spent learning at home will approximate the time spent in school in order to have a smooth transition and continuity of education, she explained.

Students will transition to a hybrid model only when there is a sustained decrease in the spread of the virus in the community, reduced diagnoses and shorter virus testing turnaround times, among other factors.

Under the second, hybrid phase, students will go to school two days a week and continue virtual learning the other three days. They will be split into two groups, half going in on Monday and Tuesday, the others attending on Thursday and Friday.

“If there are opportunities for students to come back to brick-and-mortar, we are going to look to take advantage of those, if they are safe,” Celmer said.

Students can expect to return to school full-time only when positive case rates in the community are below the state benchmark of 5% for two weeks. In addition, treatments or a vaccine must be available, as well as rapid testing turnarounds, Celmer said.

A Health and Safety Plan for reopening was also announced. It includes a requirement to wear face masks, as well as information on cleaning and sanitizing.

The second option for families is to enroll in the district’s new cyber school—Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy (HVLA). This was announced by Sneath in May as an alternative to cyber charter schools.

“If in four weeks we made an announcement that we want to start bringing students back, if you’re not comfortable with that concept, then I think you should strongly consider Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy,” Celmer said.

By the end of this week, Celmer wants all families to choose an option for the start of school on Aug. 31. A survey sent to parents allows them to pick option A or B. If they do not respond to the district, the student will automatically be put in option A, Celmer said.

All students will receive a device, such as a Chromebook or laptop, for their work. Device distribution will take place during the week of Aug. 24.

WiFi will be available in district parking lots as well as other locations around the city. Celmer added that the school is looking at a more “robust initiative” around connectivity for students that will be announced later in the week.

Food distribution will continue and will likely increase from the current one day a week to two or three.

For more information about the Harrisburg school district’s 2020-21 school year plan, visit their website.


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