The district’s pandemic task force is working with the nursing staff and the law firm of Stock and Leader to interpret state and federal guidelines as a crucial step in formulating safety protocols, said Kim Spisak, district director of student services.
The York-based firm employs attorneys who specialize in school law, including Gareth Pahowka, the South Middleton School District solicitor.
Stock and Leader made it clear that South Middleton must uphold the directives handed down by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration, Spisak said. “They were adamant that we have to be very careful about the guidelines and procedures. Districts around us may have solicitors who interpret the laws differently.”
For now, the focus is on preparing the district to make the transition when Cumberland County moves from being in the red zone to the yellow zone as defined by the Wolf administration.
Though yellow zone schools would remain closed to students and the public, South Middleton would be allowed to open its buildings on a limited basis to personnel doing essential work, Spisak said.
South Middleton is approaching the point in the traditional school year when teachers close up their classrooms in preparation for deep summer cleaning by the custodial staff.
Based on an interpretation of the guidelines, teachers closing up classrooms at the end of the academic year is essential work, Spisak said. The task force is working on a way to allow teachers to do that.
Task force member Zach Gump, the district director of buildings and grounds, said his main goal now is to have protocols in place that would enable custodians to proceed with deep cleaning once Cumberland County changes to yellow status.
Gump said he also is in talks with ABM, the contractor who employs the custodians, to develop a game plan for when the county achieves green status and schools can reopen for students and the public.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Wolf in mid-March ordered the mandatory shutdown of all schools in Pennsylvania. Prior to that, South Middleton was already ramping up its efforts to disinfect on a nightly basis such high touch areas as school restrooms and water fountains, Gump said. He is confident the district could resume that practice once the transition from red to yellow occurs.
Chances are the guidelines would require stepped-up cleaning and disinfecting during the regular school day, Gump said. The question is, will South Middleton need more staff to work during the day as opposed to its pre-COVID-19 staffing of one custodian per building.
Right now, South Middleton is at its maximum contracted staffing of 15 custodian positions through ABM, Gump told the school board’s safety and security committee Monday. Committee members asked Gump to come back with an estimate on what it could cost to hire additional custodians to cover the day shifts.
Committee chairman Jonathan Still convened the meeting to discuss what policies, procedures and resources the district may need to reopen in the fall. “I want to get ahead of the curve on what might be necessary,” Still said. “It’s better to think about it ahead of time and not need it than to be blindsided at the last minute.”
Nothing was decided Monday. It was more like a brainstorming session with future committee meetings possible when the district has more clarity from its administration on a plan to reopen.
“With the information we have now, we are trying real hard to be proactive,” said Spisak, adding there are obstacles to including certain safeguards in the plan.
For example, district administrators are conducting research on the kind of protocols that would be needed if South Middleton has to implement temperature checks on custodians in the short-term and students in the long-term. What happens, for example, if a temperature check identifies a child with a fever after that child has already ridden the bus and has been dropped off for the school day.
“We can’t allow that sick child to be outside,” Spisak said. “We would have to bring that child in. There are a lot of things for us to think through.” Another issue is having enough equipment on hand to do temperature checks in the first place.
Still suggested the district consider developing a contingency fund strictly for COVID-19 related expenses. This should also take into account cost projections related to hiring additional custodians and/or the purchase of additional chemicals to disinfect work surfaces. The district may also want to consider purchasing its own supply of face masks especially for younger students enrolled at Rice Elementary School, Spisak said.
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