Answers to frequently-asked questions
The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced on March 30 that all schools in the commonwealth will remain closed until further notice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Q&A can be found below to learn more about how this affects Bellefonte Area School District. Administrators, school board members and others respond to frequently-asked questions. Please note that much information is still unknown, but the district will work diligently to provide the community with as much information as possible as it becomes available.
You may also find information about COVID-19 as is impacts the district in a series of links found, here: COVID-19, 2020. All novel coronavirus information can be found in the “Health, safety and security” section in the “School News” tab of the district’s website.
Question and answer
*Updated 3:44 p.m. March 30
Question: This closure is a decision that came from the state. Is there an option to neglect the governor’s orders and continue with school anyway?
Dr. Saylor: There are no options. School is closed and Bellefonte Area School District will follow the governor’s direction. It is imperative that we slow the spread of the virus to ensure public health within our community. To do otherwise is irresponsible.
Q: Does this also mean school board meetings will be canceled?
Jon Guizar (board president): We're looking into virtual meetings using the Zoom video platform, which allows remote access to and which will be shared on the district's web and social media sites. There are several options for public input, including emailing comments to email@example.com. You may also find those live-streamed board meetings, here: BASD YouTube
- School board meeting 7 p.m. March 24, 2020
- School board meeting 7 p.m. April 7, 2020
- Please check back for updates
Q: What does this temporary closure mean for the superintendent search to replace Dr. Saylor who is retiring at the end of the school year?
Jon Guizar (board president): The deadline for the superintendent search, of course, has come and gone. Candidates have been selected for interview and we’re looking to see how we will continue the process during the shutdown. The final two or three (candidates) is when the community and others will be involved in the process and have the chance to offer feedback once those final few are known and prior to selection of the candidate. In the meantime, the board will meet in executive session to discuss options about how to go about the process with guidance from PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) and the governor’s office on what we're to do.
Q: How will this closure impact the planning of the proposed elementary project?
Jon Guizar (board president): We are in the middle of talks with Hunt engineers and architects. They have completed their initial phase of review on the buildings and they got some initial information they’d like to share with the building committee. Another meeting will be held with them at 2 p.m. Friday (Feb. 27). At the school board meeting on March 24, an ad hoc committee was introduced that includes a total of 20 members – four from the school board, nine individuals from the four impacted building, four administrators and three members of the community. This committee will work closely with Hunt to help in the communication of the project and with facilitating public meetings with information presented by Hunt from now until a decision is made.
Dr. Saylor: Our facilities committee has met virtually, and continues to plan for our future and how we will eventually engage the public in our potential project options and continue to move forward. Please be patient as we cannot hold face-to-face meetings and we are trying to ascertain whether we need to put this on hold until we move through the crisis or if we can reasonably continue within a virtual setting.
*See this link regarding updates of the proposed elementary school building project: Elementary building project
Q: How will this state-mandated school closure impact the remainder of the school year? The last day of school for students is scheduled for June 9, and in general, there is a 180-day school year requirement from the state.
Dr. Saylor: The state has said ‘schools will not be penalized,’ however we do not know explicitly yet if we will still need to try to make them up. We don’t anticipate extending the school year, because we’re already through the second week of June. We anticipate keeping our graduation schedule on track. Right now, that’s where we are with the governor’s guidance. Some districts are looking at going through the end of June and making it up. We are not at this point. If we must try to make up days, we will look at utilizing the last snow make-up day and/or reclassifying any professional learning days, if we can.
Even if we’re told we’re going back, we will not force students and staff that are in the most vulnerable groups, and I will not put them in that position. What does that mean for staffing? What does that mean for our community? We’re taking it in chunks. Initially, our greatest concern is providing services to students and making sure they had those healthy options for lunch, and then our next primary concern (was) how we’re going to deliver (a learning plan). With additional resources, we’ve come together with a comprehensive plan.
*See district calendar, here: 2019-20 schedule
Q: With school being closed, will the district provide alternative learning options for students?
Dr. Saylor: Yes, we’re looking at supporting enrichment and review. We’re not looking at formal instruction and delivery. The state has told us we’re required to offer continuity of education, which can be done in one of two formats – enrichment and review, and formal instruction. Bellefonte Area School District, along with most other districts in the state, are going with enrichment and review, because it enables us to be equitable in our delivery of education. We’re not a district where 100 percent of our students have access to the internet. We have areas that do not have Comcast, so they cannot provide any free internet. As we shared before, FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) is our primary concern so we can provide appropriate public education to all of our students. In order to meet that, the only thing we can do to follow FAPE is through enrichment and review. FAPE cannot be met through the formal instruction method with online options.
We have many parents express concern of feeling overwhelmed of having to manage the education of their child. They’re parents; not teachers – and they’re trying their best, so we’re creating a plan that is very user friendly. It’s designed to continue education of our students and also designed to reach all of our students with full access, whether they have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or part of the gifted program and more.
Teachers (and instructional coaches) are meeting virtually to develop the menu of options for our continuity of education plan, and we anticipate rolling that out next week. The menu of options are being created at all levels – primary and intermediate, by grade level and team at the middle school, and by course and content at the senior high school. They will have core areas and special areas. There are offline options, as well as online options, so we meet the needs of all of our students, and there is access and entry into learning for all students. Parents and families will be notified once the schedule is complete. In the interim, we encourage families to continue to reference the learning activities and resources we provided during this school closure. Many teachers may also reach out to students and their families via hangouts, social media, email and other means.
It is important to also understand that district administrators meet with all other districts in Centre, Clearfield and Clinton counties three times a week and are working together to initiate similar plans. The language and verbiage a district use may vary, but the concepts are the same.
*You may see the superintendent’s report from the March 24 school board meeting that includes preliminary information about future academic plans, state definitions of certain continuity of education plans and more, here: Superintendent's report. To see the menu of learning options for enrichment and review, visit this link: School closing resources for parents
Q: What could this mean for high school seniors specifically?
Dr. Saylor: If the closure would continue, we have plans in place to work with where we may need to address our seniors a little differently. We’re just trying to get clarification from the state on how to better move forward with a plan. We know we want to do more than enrichment and review with them. Our intent is that everyone graduates; our intent is that all those pieces continue to move forward, so our students move onto the next phase of their lives.
Q: Can the district utilize Bellefonte eLearning Academy during this closure since it's the district's primary cyber education program?
Not at this time. Since all schools across the commonwealth are closed, in additional to school-related activities and events, that includes the BeLA program.
Q: How can families gain access to subject material if they don't have the means at home?
Dr. Saylor: What we intend to do is distribute hard copies through the lunch system. That way they’re out in different areas of the community if they want to pick them up. We’re not putting any other staff out in the field and we’re efficiently using the systems we already have in place.
*To see locations for various meal programs in the Bellefonte Area, see this link: Lunch locations for academic paperwork pickup
Q: Will students have access to Chromebooks provided by the district?
Dr. Saylor: Not at this time. We’ve had lengthy conversations about that. Problems come into play. If we drop off Chromebooks, we would have to schedule independent drop-offs for families to come and pick them up outside of the school, because we are not having anyone enter the school. We don’t want to undermine the process of deep cleaning the school that has already been done. Also, if we distribute the Chromebooks, we would need to recollect them and they would need to be disinfected again before being brought back into the general school community. That in itself is a horrendous task, so we're not, at this point, looking at distributing Chromebooks to students during this immediate closure. Could that change in the future based on extended school closures? Yes. And that’s also why the continuity of education plan includes both virtual and offline learning, so those who don’t have a device at home may still be involved in the learning process. It’s not always about technology; it’s about the level of engagement and what you're being asked to do to continue your learning.
*Bellefonte Area School District sent a survey to families of students within the district. It included a Google Chromebook request form. This does not mean the district will be sending those home during the school closure due to COVID-19, but it will give the district an idea of what the need will look like in the future. Please see that survey, here: Chromebook request form
Q: How is the district planning for the care and education of special ed students?
Gina MacFalls (special education director): Special education presents a challenge to schools in terms of providing a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with disabilities. The district has taken a two-pronged approach based on our local Continuity of Education plan, which offers optional enrichment opportunities at each grade level for major subjects like mathematics, English and language arts, social studies and science. Teachers and administrators have been meeting on a daily basis to craft and refine activities that all students can access. Our special education teachers have been a part of this process all along the way.
With regard to individual student needs, each special education teacher and/or related service provider will reach out to each parent and outline a good-faith, best-effort to honor our obligation of providing free appropriate public education and meet the needs of their child during this period of closure, when many instructional resources and face-to-face contact are necessarily limited. This interim plan is intended to remain in effect only during the period of emergency school closure. It does not replace the current IEP, which will resume when the mandated closure ends. When school resumes, the IEP team will conduct individualized assessments of your child’s academic and functional skills to determine a need for compensatory services that may be related to this disruption in education.
*See a copy of the letter for individual families. It will be customized per child based on his or her needs: Special education plan
Q: Will kindergarten registration continue? Or is that canceled, as well?
Karen Krisch (Marion-Walker Elementary School principal): We will set up new registration days as soon as we know when we will return to school.
*Please check back for details as we are still working to provide the community with information about this. In the district’s podcast released in March, information is featured about kindergarten registration. Please disregard the dates, as this was conducted just before the state-ordered school closure. However, it still provides valuable information about what young students and their families can expect — in the words of Krisch, school counselor Ashley Hamilton and building secretary Jill Catalano. The bulk of the conversation begins at the 2:01-minute mark. Please listen, here: Red Raiders Podcast: K-Registration
Q: Many events have been canceled during this time, such as field trips and athletics activities. Will they be rescheduled?
Dr. Saylor: We will attempt to reschedule any events we can once the current health situation is behind us and/or as we receive additional guidance. This, however, is not guaranteed. At this time, all April field trips are canceled in anticipation of potential further school closures, but the district will review field trips scheduled in May.
Deb Moore (athletic director): Many factors go into this, which we do not know yet. It depends upon when we return, if the season will be shortened or extended, what PIAA and the league does, and more.
Q: With the potential of it shortened, how will this spring sports season impact sports at Bellefonte Area and student-athletes, such as their eligibility to receive things such a varsity letter and/or other accolades?
Deb Moore (athletic director): It will be looked into, but I don’t know at this time. Lettering, for instance, is usually based on the percentage of playing time, so it depends on how much of the season is left. Each sport is different and it will have to be looked into. We will do everything we can to make sure getting back into the spring season is a smooth transition, but again, I do not know what I am facing. Whatever is decided we will roll with it and try to make the best of the situation.
Q: What are current sanitation plans for district buildings and grounds?
Aaron Barto (director of physical plant): The custodial staff cleans and disinfects on a daily basis, plus we instituted a mid-day disinfection of door knobs and other high-touch surfaces. Essential personnel will be in at least the beginning of the week (March 16) to do deep cleaning and disinfecting.
Q: Many students rely on school for good and healthy breakfast and lunch options. Is the district doing anything to help provide families and students with meals during the closure?
Laura Frye (food service director): Yes, the district is working with the YMCA of Centre County that will provide 'drop and go' meals with sites around the Bellefonte Area community. As of March 24, about 100 students daily were being served. Every 'drop and go' site must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which is the overseer of the program from the United States Department of Agriculture. Other services are in the works as the district and other local agencies work to get approval from the state.
*Visit this link for more information about meal program options: Meal options
Q: Is there any legislation in place to help districts make decisions during this state-mandated school closure?
Pedro Rivera (PA Department of Edcuation secretary): (On March 27), Gov. (Tom) Wolf signed an emergency school code bill. The department was pleased to contribute to this bipartisan initiative, which passed both chambers unanimously. This legislation, now Act 13 of 2020, provides a basis for fiscal stabilization for the education community, protects our educator workforce, allows this year’s cohort of student teachers to bypass a 12-week training requirement and pauses other statutory provisions that are unworkable amid emergency response efforts. While the governor and I had previously committed that no school would be penalized for an inability to meet the 180 instructional day requirement, Act 13 officially waives this requirement for the 2019-20 school year.
The department is now engaged in an ambitious endeavor to establish a user-friendly process for guiding, receiving, reviewing and responding to any additional requests for waivers that an LEA may want to submit consistent with provisions of Act 13. The department will publish detailed guidance, including additional information on waiver relief, in the coming days. Speaking of guidance, we updated information and guidance on federal programs, early learning and essential personnel on our website.
One of our most significant milestones this week was working alongside our 29 intermediate units and three regional PaTTANs to develop resources and line up technical assistance opportunities to help you create and implement Continuity of Education plans.
Q: What should families know to help lessen the weight on their shoulders during this time?
Dr. Saylor: We want everyone to know that kids are going to be OK. And our teachers are phenomenal. Once we get back to whatever the new normal is, our teachers will make sure the kids enter where they are and move them to where they need to be. We, in education, have absolutely no doubts about that. We encourage parents to continue to read with their children, play games with their children and spend time talking. Having that engagement and interaction – our children will rebound. We want to make sure we have methods in place that they (students) don’t have a huge slide, so to review what they’re already beginning to understand. And we know it’s going to be OK. We have 100 percent faith in that. What we’re most concerned about is the anxiety this is creating on student and families. That’s why we sent out that sentiment earlier in the week, because we understand.
*See letter to families, here: Parent letter
Q: What other resources are availble?
*Information compiled by social worker Maria McClatchey from CIU-10: Family and community resources
- Health care
- Please note that coronavirus testing is not available at CVIM at this time
- CVIM: "If you have a fever, cough, any respiratory symptoms, have traveled internationally or domestically in the last 14 days or have had possible contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19, please reschedule your appointment."
- Mental health
- Safe2Say Something hotline is still open. Learn more, here: Safe2Say
- Supporting you child and their emotions
- Includes resources about how to speak with your child about the coronavirus pandemic
- Health care