District policy on class size discussed at Mars

Special ed plan report OK'd

May 21, 2020 Cranberry Local News


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Mars School Board held its second virtual meeting Tuesday night. While the board was physically present during the proceedings, district officials and the public attended the meeting online.

Several district residents attended to ask questions and clarify district procedures.

Policies

A few people tuning into the meeting asked about the district's plans for Policy 126 on class size. A revised version of the policy was listed on Tuesday night's agenda for approval, but tabled by the board.

“Our class size policy has been in play for many years,” said Elizabeth McMahon, assistant superintendent.

McMahon said the “spirit” of the revised policy “triggers an administrative conversation.” Among the items the policy helps district officials identify are relevant curriculum, student interests and the best utilization of staff, according to McMahon. The policy will come again before the board.

“We will be revisiting this at another date,” McMahon said.

Darren Fecich thanked McMahon for clarifying the policy. He also asked about a sentence that might indicate exemptions to class size guidelines now that fall under the school board's jurisdiction instead of district administration.

“I fully respect your mandate to set the policy,” Fecich said to the board. “I'm just concerned that that policy would no longer be carried out by the superintendent and the admin team.”

McMahon said the revised policy won't remove exemption decisions from district administrators. McMahon said when she met with high school Principal Lindsay Rosswog to review 2020-21 curriculum, they saw next year's yearbook course doesn't meet the necessary class size at this time.

“It's still our recommendation to the board to run that class,” McMahon said.

Fecich encouraged district officials to find ways to “keep continuity” in the next school year, particularly when navigating difficult budget decisions.

“It's going to be a difficult school year,” Fecich said.

McMahon also explained Policy 212 on reporting student progress for the 2019-20 school year, which the board did approve.

The policy was designed following Pennsylvania Department of Education recommendations, according to McMahon. The department advises districts implement “grading safety nets” for students who had trouble using Online Continuity of Instruction (OCI) in the last nine weeks of school.

“This is due to COVID-19,” McMahon said. “It supports students during the fourth quarter in grades seven to 12 who have struggled with this OCI process.”

The policy specifically addresses seventh- through 12-grade students because they traditionally take midterm and final exams to gauge progress.

“In grades K through sixth, that safety net is already put into place,” McMahon said.

McMahon advised district parents who have concerns about their students' grades to contact their child's principal. Situations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Special education

Julia Konitzky asked about the district's special education plan report for July 1 through June 30, 2023, which was on Tuesday night's agenda for board approval.

Konitzky, who has two children with individualized education programs in the Mars schools, said families in the special education program haven't been briefed on the plan.

“Not a single (special education) parent even knows of any of this,” Konitzky said. “I just want to reiterate that there's really no communication with special ed.”

McMahon said the plan is a comprehensive overview of the district's special education department.

“That's … a checks and balance that we do every few years,” McMahon said. “It's a mandate from the state.”

Konitzky also wanted to know why William Pettigrew, a former district superintendent and school board member, was listed as part of the report's planning committee.

“When we have a committee, it's community members, teachers, representatives of special education, other administrators,” McMahon said. “Board members, too.”

McMahon said the report must be posted for public review for 30 days before the board approves it. After receiving approval, the report is sent to the state.

McMahon said the report isn't part of the district's corrective action for the special education program.

“This basically kind of records what programming we have and how we've improved from the last comprehensive plan that we submitted,” McMahon said. “It's just to keeping us moving forward.”

McMahon said she is confident the 2020-23 plan has the district headed in a “positive direction.” The board approved the plan report.

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Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal