Kiski Area officials: State Education Department contradicts themselves with new school guidelines

As the district prepares to enter its second semester, Kiski Area is one of few that has offered in-person and hybrid instruction all school year, Superintendent Tim Scott said — staying consistent amid shifting guidelines from the state Department of Education.

During a Wednesday evening school board meeting, Scott and school directors expressed frustration at the state’s newly updated guidelines for instruction and went over early plans for vaccinating district employees.

Scott noted only a month or so ago, the state mandated attestation forms from each district planning to stay open in areas of substantial spread.

“It was so important to do that that PDE didn’t even give school boards time to discuss it,” Scott said. “Really, the updated guidance from last week essentially directly contradicts what they felt it was so important for us to do here at the end of November.”

The latest guidance from the state, recommending in-person learning for elementary school students even in areas of substantial community spread, makes little difference to Kiski Area, which has offered up to four days of in-person instruction, in addition to a 100{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} remote option, since November.

Kiski Area was, at the time, one of few districts in Westmoreland County that opted to keep teaching students in classrooms.

Shifting information

Scott has been vocal about the limitations to state guidelines for schools throughout the covid-19 pandemic — which have often left superintendents and school boards as the final decision-makers, working off of little concrete data.

“Last week’s announcement citing studies that young children aren’t ‘spreaders,’ ‘transmitters,’ as much as older folks — we had that data six months ago,” he said. “Nothing really has changed except … the recommendations and opinions.”

The constantly shifting and often-ambiguous guidelines have caused difficulty for many school districts that have switched continually back and forth from in-person to remote learning during the first semester, Solicitor Ronald Repak said.

“I feel like coming out of the Capitol in Harrisburg, they keep saying ‘they want us in school,’” Repak said, “but then they keep putting all these roadblocks up … and then they switch the target on us.”

Repak commended Kiski Area for keeping a “straight line” of hybrid and in-person learning throughout the first half of the school year. His firm, Beard Legal Group, represents several districts across the commonwealth; few have been as consistent, he said.

School directors expressed relief Kiski Area has been relatively consistent in its guidance for students and families and some frustration at the state’s changing restrictions.

“I just feel that at this point, it’s very unfortunate that our kids are being used as pawns. They’re carriers; they’re not carriers. They can go in person. They have to be remote,” said Deborah Williamson, who said it’s a shame students are being “indoctrinated, not educated.”

“You can’t make this time up,” she said. “You can’t get it back.”

Districts statewide are experiencing similar challenges when it comes to planning for vaccine distribution. Educators are set to receive the vaccine, according to federal guidelines, in Phase 1B, which state health officials say should begin soon. But specific information remains elusive.

Repak said his firm has been looking for more clarity about which school employees are eligible — it appears, he said, teachers, staff, and even school board members, will fall into the category.

Repak said he hasn’t gotten word when vaccinations can be administered to the district. Hospitals in some areas of the state have been authorized to start immunizing educators, he said, but not all.

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Education | Local | Valley News Dispatch

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