Montoursville, Pa. - We are still experiencing the devastating affects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But few places still are all too familiar with its reality than our local school districts.
That was very abundant during last nights meeting of the Montoursville Area school board.
The meeting agenda of the school board was packed full of information for public consumption.
Related reading: Montoursville School Board casts bold vote on mask removal
The American Rescue Plan, part of the Biden Administration's strategy to lift the United States out of pandemic-related issues, requires each school district, which receives funding under the ARP's 'Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief' (ESSER), to develop - and make publicly available on the respective school district's website - a "safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services plan."
Under ARP guidelines, each school district must implement a health and safety plan which addresses how it will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other stuff which will serve as a local guideline for all instructional and non-instructional school activities moving forward.
Guidelines state each district's health and safety plan must be approved and posted publicly by July 30, 2021.
It also states school districts must review their health and safety plans every six months while grant funding is being provided.
Only one school board member was absent. Board members unanimously approved the meeting minutes from the last meeting. An executive session was held on July 8 for personnel issues.
Board member Sue Beery started off with a statement by thanking members of the community for their efforts to combat COVID-19.
"This is a massive group project," Beery said, that many of us worked hard to combat.
A student body representative said a production of "My first Lockdown," directed by Dylann Eck, will be held at Montoursville High School. The student representative humorously mentioned how this play was not a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brenda Oberheim of Montoursville, gave a five-minute presentation at the beginning of the meeting. Oberheim was adamant to the board that public comment should be put back in to public meeting recordings.
"The taxpayers should never be shortchanged as far as information is concerned," Oberheim said in defense of her position.
Oberheim also said, "We want the policy put back, that any board member can call a vote, even if it is not on the agenda."
School board member Bill Ruffing was the lone vote against allowing public comment to be recorded at public meetings of the school board of directors.
"I'm not willing to put the district at risk. I do not believe the reward is worth that risk...I just don't believe that anything anybody just said should be put out by the district, and the district being responsible for that," Ruffing said.
But board member Ronald Snell seemed to agree with Oberheim.
"People want to see what people think, and if those comments align with what other people think. If somebody is speaking that would put the district in harms way, we have a solicitor that we pay to stop that."
"We also could let everybody know that you cannot speak to the board, and bring up other people, and do things which will put the district in harms way. To be transparent, it should be like other school boards to (present) and leave in public comment so the community knows what is being said at the board meetings," said Snell.
"In no way was the board trying to not be transparent," said member Daniel Albert.
"I believe the benefits outweigh the risks," said member Sue Beery.
Montoursville School District Health & Safety Plan
"If we cannot get the plan submitted the way parents want it, we should not have one," parent Brenda Oberheim continued during her presentation at the beginning of the board meeting.
Part of the Montoursville school district's health policy has been, they will not mandate students - or faculty - to be fully vaccinated as a condition to return to work, or be in school.
Issues with the school district's safety plan came up when mentioning diagnostic and screening testing. As it states, "The district will, however, share with any interested persons such as facilities that offer testing and screening within the community."
However, one parent mentioned how the school district's property should not be used whatsoever for any sort of COVID-19 testing, vaccination, or diagnostics.
Sharon Myers, of Lyons Barr Rd., explained she did not necessarily like the idea of masking on school busses, but that not much had changed by of summer school policies. Myers also brought up that the school board was attempting to bring in a new special education teacher at a higher cost of $12,000 a year, while giving praise to the current special education instructor.
Montoursville mayor Steve Bagwell was in attendance, but did not speak. Lycoming County Commissioner Scott Metzger, himself a Montoursville resident, was also in attendance, but did not speak.
The board spent a good half hour debating language in their health plan about how the district, "ill continue to follow the Pennsylvania Department of Health contact tracing requirements."
The board's discussion coalesced around the distinction between what was a law, versus what was a requirement, which is not a law.
The board changed the language to state, "The district will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health with regard to contact tracing."
Superintendent Christina Bason had no report to give to the board.