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Some Hazleton Area students to start classes March 22

Standard-Speaker - 2/26/2021

Feb. 26—Hazleton Area students in life support, special education and autistic support classes and seniors in vocational programs will return to school in person on March 22.

Other students who want to return will go back to classes on April 12, school board President Linda DeCosmo said during the school board's meeting Thursday.

Teachers will report March 15 to prepare classrooms, from where they will stream lessons until students return in person.

"The dates that we have out there, those are the definite dates ... I'll give you my word," DeCosmo said. Buses also will take students to and from schools, she said.

Most of the district's 11,387 students have been studying from home all year.

A few hundred students, primarily those set to return on March 22, attended some classes in person during the first semester.

"In the fall those students did very well," Superintendent Brian Uplinger said after the meeting. One classroom at Hazleton Area Career Center had to close briefly because of COVID-19, he said, "but other than that it worked well."

Since Thanksgiving, even those students had to study from home because COVID-19 cases increased in the region.

According to a state rating system, transmission of the disease remains substantial in Luzerne, Carbon and Schuylkill counties where Hazleton Area students live.

But Hazleton Area is responding to guidelines of the state Department of Education, which encouraged elementary students to return to classes in person during the second semester, which began Feb. 1 in Hazleton Area.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an update for schools on Feb. 11 said children and adolescents can become infected with the virus and spread it. Most children have mild symptoms, but those with underlying conditions are at greater risk for severe illness, according to the update, which recommended taking unique community circumstances into consideration when reopening schools.

To prepare for reopening, Hazleton Area invested in cleaning supplies, including a machine that disinfects to operating room standards.

On Thursday, the board accepted an offer from Air Purification Systems to assess ways to improve air exchange and air quality in the district's 13 schools.

After the meeting, Uplinger said the number of days a week students spend in classrooms will depend on how many of them want to return.

In the most recent survey, parents of 8,000 students indicated they want their children to return to classes or didn't reply. If that many students want to take classes in person, the district will offer hybrid schedules in which students attend school some days and study from home some days.

If, however, less than 25% of students want to study in person, Uplinger said the schools would have room for them to attend five days a week and still meet physical distance guidelines to guard against COVID-19.

"We'll put that out well in advance so everybody understands who's coming back and when they're coming back," Uplinger said.

Replying to a district resident who didn't favor having students take standardized tests when they return to classes, Uplinger said: "I'm with you 100%, but I'm not the secretary of education."

Later, he said the state asked the federal government to skip tests this year, but a decision is pending.

Normally the tests are given in April or May, but the federal government has said they could be postponed until September.

Neither option pleases Uplinger, who said the tests put students under stress, and Hazleton Area assesses their performance many ways and many times a year.

"We have to look at the individual," he said. "Children learn at different speeds."

Another resident, Dr. Robert Childs, a former board member, suggested that the district use some of its federal pandemic money to purchase internet service for students whose families aren't online.

The district started providing new computers to students to use at home this week, but even with computers students need the internet to participate in online classes.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Uplinger said the district offered to pay outstanding bills so families could accept an offer of free internet for three months. The provider offering the deal was unable to tell Uplinger the dollar amount needed to clear the debt.

"We tried, and we couldn't do it," Uplinger said.

Contact the writer:; 570-501-3587


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