CLARION - When it comes to dealing with reopening its schools, the Clarion Area School District wants to be as transparent as possible which is why the district is getting input from parents and updating families on the district's reopening plan every step of the way.

At the Clarion Area School Board work session held Aug. 4, there was a full outline of the school's reopening plan which was to be finalized at the board's regular meeting tonight (Aug. 11).

The district plans to fully reopen its schools Aug. 26 with in-person classes five days per week.

During the meeting, Clarion Area's Director of Special Education Crystal Johnston reported on a survey she did with 333 families in the district which represented 521 students and 85-percent of those surveyed were in favor of in-person learning for their children while 15-percent were in favor of online instruction if Pennsylvania stays in the green phase.

If the state would revert to the yellow phase, 75 percent of families would be in favor of in-person instruction while 25 percent would be in favor of online instruction.

When it came to transportation, 60 percent of respondents preferred providing their own transportation for their children.

Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed had internet access with 60-percent having devices available for students to use for remote learning.

In an effort to connect with parents and answer any questions they had about the upcoming school year, the district held meetings for each class (kindergarten through 12th-grade) at the newly built pavilion at the Clarion Area Elementary School.

Clarion Area is using funds from Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) grant and CARES Act grant on projects to make the district's schools safe for students to return.

Clarion Area is removing all of the drinking fountains in the schools and replacing them with bottle fillers. The school will also make bottled water available if a student forgets its water bottle.

The district is also installing acrylic dividers on the tables in kindergarten and the first grade. The dividers will act as an extra line of protection for students. The dividers will also be put on the tables in the elementary art classes as well as on the tables in the elementary library.

The district also purchased tri-fold clear plastic shields for use at the high school.

Clarion Area School District Superintendent Joe Carrico also stated the district has purchased misting units to disinfect classrooms. The units are to be able disinfect a room in two minutes.

The district also purchased HEPA filters for air filtration and will place hand sanitizers in high-traffic areas and have hand sanitizer available in every classroom. Classrooms will also have paper towels and disinfectant available and there will also be gloves available for students.

In the classrooms, the district is hoping to keep students socially distanced by rearranging desks.

The district also purchased disposable masks as well as face shields for staff and students who have a medical condition which prevents them from wearing face coverings. Masks will not be required when students are able to social distance.

The district wants parents to keep children who are not feeling well at home. And the school is not performing temperature checks on students because the temperature checks have not been proven to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The two areas where Carrico feels will be area of biggest concern is transportation and lunch.

"We are going to be a little more structured about wearing masks on the buses," Carrico said. "We are looking to do an every other seat policy at lunch and use our outdoor space appropriately. At the high school level, we are looking to use shields as a barrier.

"However, that will take away a lot of the social element of lunch."

Carrico is taking a realistic approach when it comes to mitigating COVID-19.

"I am not going to stand here and say all the stuff we are doing is going to guarantee there isn't going to be a virus in any of our buildings," Carrico said. "I can probably say more comfortably that there is probably going to be cases of Coronavirus in our buildings. What I'm saying to you is we are doing what we can to the best of our abilities. We are going to rely heavily on our medical folks in the district to advise us on the most appropriate steps we can take."

If the state would move back into the yellow phase, Clarion Area students would come in two days a week for in-person learning while they would have online instruction the other three days of the week. The district is trying to group students from the same families to have in-person learning on the same days.

If the state reverts to the red phase, the school would be closed for in-person learning and all classes would be virtual.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to teach its students remotely last spring, the Clarion Area School District was forced into an uncomfortable situation in which distance learning was a work in progress.

"When we did the online learning in the spring, it was very chaotic for us," Carrico said. "There isn't anyone in this room -- administration, staff, whoever-who is going to tell you that is was a pleasant process or an effective process. But it was an opportunity for us to learn and grow and plan. We are comfortable things are going to be much better in the fall."

According to Carrico, the district will offer online learning for students who aren't comfortable with returning for in-person learning.

The district partnered with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to provide online learning programs. The kindergarten through sixth-grade program is called Accelerate while the seventh through 12th-grade program is called Edgenuity.

Clarion Area purchased the programs through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit is because it represents 53 school districts and 42 of those districts use the Accelerate and Edgenuity programs.

"Our biggest job moving forward is accelerating getting our teachers trained and prepared for online teaching," Carrico said. "That will be our biggest focus for the next couple weeks."

Students must sign up for online learning by Aug. 14.

However, students will be able to transfer from in-person to online learning and vice versa at the end of every nine-week period.

"We are looking at the online learning as a step towards for us to go into a digital platform and a digital world," Carrico said. "We are doing a one-to-one lease this year for Chromebooks and Chromebook touchscreen units for our elementary students and we are doing a one-to-one Chromebooks lease for the high school in 2021-22 so we are hoping by 2021-22 we will have a kindergarten through 12 digital platform.

"This is a great opportunity for us to test drive it, look at it, immerse ourselves in it. We want to be able to send these units home with kids and families so they can become comfortable with it."

The Chromebook touchscreens will be used by students in kindergarten, first and second grades while the Chromebooks will be used by the third through sixth grade students.

The district used money from the CARES grant to make purchases which are as follow:

4A new van use for emergency transportation or transportation of food, $29,000.

4Two storage units. The storage units would be utilized to store extra desks if the state moved back into the yellow phase, $5,600.

4Fifty new Chromebooks for the high school, $12,500.

4Six hundred computer bags, $12,500.

4Six hundred computer chargers, $12,500.

4Daily building substitutes, $39,970.

4Acrylic dividers and cleaning supplies, $8,000.