Keystone: No student will be penalized for circumstances

Keystone School Board members, superintendent Shawn Algoe and business manager Vern Lauffer maintained a safe "social distance" during the board's March 30 session. Picture (from left) are: board members Dwayne Van Tassel, Jim Beary and Stacey Thompson, Algoe and board members John Slagle and Greg Barrett.

KNOX - Keystone School District Superintendent Shawn Algoe told school board members March 30 there are still far more questions about the COVID-19-affected school year than answers, but stressed students will not be penalized for matters they cannot control.

(Gov. Tom Wolf March 29 ordered all public and private schools to remain closed until further notice.)

Will classroom instruction resume in May? Will the school year continue into late June? Will there be a prom? Will there be graduation ceremonies?

Algoe acknowledged the answers to those questions are still in a day-to-day state of flux.

"The 180-day (of instruction) requirement has been waived," said Algoe. "That should not be misinterpreted though we will still try to get as much instruction in as we can. We still have not determined what we will do but we will do as much as we can."

Algoe said he understands some students and families have made plans for June and the summer months that could have long-term effects.

I know there are students who have career plans, I know there are students who need to work their families are counting on them working, we understand there are plans that need to happen," said Algoe. "No one will penalized if they have June commitments."

Board member Dwayne Van Tassel said he has read social media posts claiming seniors might be required to repeat the school year if school closings drag on.

Algoe said that is not true.

But Algoe also cautioned the community that seniors who were in good academic standing when schools across the state were ordered closed March 13 remain in good academic standing.

"But those seniors who are not in good academic standing could be facing credit recovery (in order to graduate)," said Algoe. "There will be no free passes."

The COVID-19 emergency will have a large impact on the Class of 2020.

"The seniors have been stripped of a lot of opportunities," said Algoe. "Life isn't fair and these kids will lose a number of things. My heart aches for them, but this is an unprecedented event in all of our lives."

Meanwhile

Algoe noted the state Department of Education continues to encourage school districts to develop online instruction.

"We are not equipped for online instruction," said Algoe. "We don't have the infrastructure. We're not an online education institution.

"Some kids have home computers, some kids don't. Some families have good Internet access, some families don't have any Internet access."

Algoe also pointed out about 20 percent of Keystone students have Individual Education Plans that do not transfer well to online instruction.

Instead, Algoe explained, Keystone will focus on "continuity of education."

Algoe explained continuity of education includes two parts planned instruction, which is new material lessons and two, enrichment and review.

Enrichment and review will "maintain where we are," said Algoe.

That will include voluntary worksheets, activities and other methods to help families keep their children's skills as sharp as possible given the circumstances.

Algoe said the district's education philosophy includes the belief face-to-face instruction is better for students and helps teachers ensure lessons are effective.

"Online instruction does not offer the same quality of education," said Algoe. "With online classes, how do you ensure actual learning?"

Algoe expressed frustration with the state Department of Education's position on online education.

"We have to keep reminding DOE not everyone has Internet," said Algoe. "It's disheartening to have to remind them of that all the time. We have teachers who don't have good Internet service at home."

Algoe said he believes more guidance from the state Department of Education will be coming soon.

"It's also important to remember we're not losing a quarter of a year of education," explained Algoe. "At the point when the shutdown happened, we were very well into our (new education).

"With the PSSA testing coming up we were looking at four or five weeks focused on just preparing and testing. We try to get through all our new material each year before those assessments begin and that's where we were. You couple that with other end of the year events and activities, we aren't losing a quarter of a year of (new education)."

Stabilization

Algoe said district efforts will continue to provide as much of a stable environment for students at home as possible.

In addition to the enrichment and review policy, the district will continue to offer free meals to those 18 years old and younger.

The meals are distributed from 11 a.m. to 12:30 P.M. on Tuesdays and Fridays at the elementary school.

More information about the program can be found on the district's webpage.

As of March 30, the district had provided 3,404 meals during the school shutdown.

"Those cafeteria ladies are really super women," Algoe said.

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