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  • Karen Krisch named district’s pandemic coordinator

    Karen Krisch has an added role at Bellefonte Area School District on top of already being the principal at Marion-Walker Elementary School. As a requirement from the state, public schools must have a pandemic coordinator, which Krisch is filling the role of. It was created in response to COVID-19, also known as novel coronavirus.

    “The state doesn’t define what that means, so I see my job as taking over the coordinating and facilitating, and making sure to get everyone at the table who needs to be there, and to make sure we’re covering anything and everything that needs to be covered,” she said.

    It’s a tireless effort.

    In May, the district created a school reopening taskforce with about 50 administrators, professional staff, support staff and board members. Separated in different work groups, they’re responsible for making a series of plans heading into the 2020-21 school year, while following guidance from the state.

    That starts with a health and safety plan, followed by educational and instructional and social and emotional health plans, which must be approved by the board, submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and posted publicly online. It also includes overseeing plans for the district during the summer months – something that was approved at the board meeting June 30.

    Krisch said the district has received guidance from the state regarding the health and safety plan, but is still waiting on more information regarding the other aspects of phased school reopening. The goal, she added, is to have options available to families in July, so they have enough time to decide on the route of their child’s education before the first day of school on Aug. 25.

  • “There’s a lot to get done, so my goal is to get everyone together to make sure these plans are done and then move forward from there,” Krisch said. “It’s not just balancing the needs of our teachers and staff, but also about balancing the needs of parents, too.”

    In planning, Krisch and the taskforce follows guidance from institutions such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Education and more. They’ve also met with school nurses, the district’s facilities and food service directors, and regularly consult with medical professionals from Geisinger Medical Group and Centre County Emergency Management Agency who provide feedback.

    In June, a survey was sent to parents of children in the district in regard to collecting information for the reopening of school. Another one was sent out at the beginning of July regarding educational choices and transportation. In the first survey, more than 1,700 responses were received, which answered multiple-choice and open-ended questions such as:

    • How comfortable are you with sending your child back to school in August?
    • If school is unable to reopen in August for full day school due to phase restrictions, what kind of alternative learning methods would you prefer for your child?
    • What personal protective equipment would you be able to provide for your child?
    • What safety precautions would you expect the school to have in place for students if they return to school?
    • In order to support social distancing, would you be able to transport your children to and from school?

    About two-thirds of parents and guardians indicated they would like to get their child back to school physically, while the school follows strict health and safety guidelines. Krisch said many responses in the open-ended section also included wanting school to be a “normalizing” place for children, even under extreme sanitary conditions. At the time of the survey, no decision was made by the district about potential options for student education heading into the 2020-21 school year. The goal of the survey results was to gain feedback to help create options for the reopening of school.

    “We’re trying hard and sometimes we feel like we’re not doing enough, but I want people to know just how much time is invested and how much time we’re putting into contemplating all these things,” Krisch said. “We landed early on wanting to give parents choices, because everyone is in a different place and we want to respect that. If you’re not comfortable with sending them back to school, then we will have alternative options. We’re balancing safety and education that’s in the best interest of everyone involved and working tirelessly to figure this out.”

    *By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD