ADAMS TWP — Mars Area School District is reminding families that students can enroll in Mars Area Cyber Academy next year, especially since plans for returning to a “brick-and-mortar” setting aren't set in stone.
“We don't want to be that district that puts out a plan, only to turn around and change it,” said Elizabeth McMahon, assistant superintendent, at the Tuesday night school board meeting. “We look to move forward with a feasible plan.”
McMahon said while district officials believe students are best served learning in person, adhering to the Pennsylvania Department of Education's return-to-school process isn't a simple matter.
The state has directed schools to begin “phased reopenings” based on the color of the county.
For counties that have gone green, schools are permitted to offer in-person instruction after developing a written health and safety plan. Plans need to be approved by school boards and then posted on district websites.
Mars Area is monitoring a number of entities as it prepares to make a plan, according to McMahon. Among these are the Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and neighboring districts.
The district has already identified its ideal scenario for fall, according to McMahon.
“We believe that our children are going to be best situated in that classroom in front of those teachers,” McMahon said. “That is our goal.”
But ultimately, McMahon said, Mars Area wants to be sure students are safe.
Citing the fact some district parents may be uncomfortable sending their children physically back to school, McMahon reminded the public that Mars Area Cyber Academy is a functional option.
“It is a simple, seamless process,” McMahon said. “In a matter of two days, three days, we can have students enrolled in the Mars cyber program.”
Mars Area Cyber Academy provides education for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Curriculum, provided by Waterfront Learning via Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3, aligns with the district's.
“Children are still Mars Area School District students,” McMahon said. “(It) would be the same as if they graduated ... from the Mars Area School District.”
Information about Mars Area Cyber Academy is available on the district's website.
McMahon added that children can move in and out of the cyber program as needed.
The district approved an athletics health and safety plan Tuesday. The plan details the process for bringing student athletes back to sports over the summer.
With workouts being voluntary, those who choose to participate in preseason training will be asked to sign a one-time waiver.
Daily health assessments of students will be conducted before athletic sessions. The data collected will be retained by the district.
Masks must be worn by coaches and students indoors and outside. Showers and locker rooms will be closed, although hand sanitizer will be available. Social distancing must be practiced. Physical contact is prohibited.
The athletics health and safety plan is on the district's website for public review. It may be adjusted as more health care information becomes available or the status of the county changes.
One of the next extracurricular health and safety plans to be developed will be for marching band, according to district officials.
The district doesn't have any solid procedures in place for returning to school this fall, but planning has begun.
McMahon said aside from communicating regularly with incoming superintendent Mark Gross, the district launched an initial parent survey that will be the first of several.
“We are starting our planning,” McMahon said. “This is a framework that we're working toward.”
District parent Dana Briggs said she was glad the district was considering returning to a brick-and-mortar setting.
“So glad to hear what you're saying, Dr. McMahon,” Briggs said. “I had a feeling you guys would all be on board with bringing (students) back five days a week.”
Still, McMahon reminded parents that circumstances might be different in the fall.
“They're constantly changing,” McMahon said.