PASD resumes educational operations remotely

The Continuity of Education Plan will teach review and enrichment, not new concepts, Lesniewski said


After three weeks of state-mandated school closure in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Punxsutawney Area School District will recommence instruction remotely on Monday, April 6, Superintendent Thomas Lesniewski said.

On Monday, March 30, Lesniewski posted an update to the district website detailing the district’s educational plan: the Continuity of Education Plan. In the update, Lesniewski said students would work on enrichment and review material rather than learn new concepts. The program is not mandatory, and students who choose to participate can do so either online or through packets available for pickup at school. On March 30, Gov. Tom Wolf extended the school closure indefinitely, and Lesniewski said the program will continue until Wolf lifts the closure.

PAHS Principal Jeff Long said the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) gave public school districts two choices for continuing education during the closure: teachers could pick up where they had left off three weeks earlier or review concepts they had already covered in class. Long said PASD elected to offer review because teaching new material would require all students to participate, which the district deemed impossible given the circumstances.

“Unfortunately, at this point in time, we are unable to provide equal access due to logistical issues such as limited internet coverage and inability to provide accommodations that some disabled students are guaranteed by law,” Long said. “The review and enrichment option that we have selected allows us to offer instruction of review materials and enrichment activities to all students in non-equitable ways.”

Long said that because the program is voluntary, students who do not participate will finish the year with the same grades they had on March 13, the last in-school day before Wolf announced the statewide school closure. He added that students who are currently failing must complete assignments for the program in order to improve their grades.

However, the closure is interrupting more than just formal learning.

Lesniewski said PDE cancelled all state standardized tests, including the Keystone and PSSA, for the rest of the school year. National exams are a different story, though. PAHS had planned to hold the SAT exam on March 14, but the closure cancelled both the test and the makeup exam on March 28. CollegeBoard, which offers the SAT, tentatively set the first weekend of June as the next exam date. CollegeBoard rescheduled Advanced Placement (AP) exams for May 11-22, though in an abbreviated format, explained here.

Also, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) postponed high school spring sports indefinitely statewide. PASD athletic director Randy Reitz said he is unsure what will happen with sports if students return to school, and he advised athletes who still want to practice their sports to follow social distancing guidelines while doing so.

Long said the district will cancel other end-of-year events like the Variety Show, prom and senior trips if the closure lasts past their scheduled dates.

“Consideration of any future event at PAHS will depend upon how long the forced break continues,” he said. “Honestly, the feasibility of certain events are already doubtful given the time frame already extended. However, cancellations will be considered on an individual event basis.”

PDE mandates that the school year must end by June 30. Lesniewski said the district will look to the state and federal boards of education to decide when to end the school year or Continuity of Education Plan, depending on whether students return to school.

Until school reopens, Long said all essential district staff will remain in-house and teachers will work from home, where they will be available to students on weekdays from 9:30-11 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. Also, the district is delivering meals to several places in the area for students who depend on school for breakfast and lunch.

Lesniewski said that as long as the closure lasts, people in the community should follow government safety regulations and do their best to deal with the new normal.

“This is an unprecedented event,” he said. “First, stay safe, stay healthy and follow current social distancing orders. Second, everyone has to understand that this is not a normal school process, and everyone needs to be understanding and flexible. Together, we will get through this crisis.”