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Canon-McMillan School District approves fall reopening plan

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the proper percentage of parents that would consider distance learning for the upcoming school year. 

The Canon-McMillan School Board on Thursday approved a plan that will allow students to return to school for in-person classes on Aug. 24, the first day of school, while offering a distance learning option for students who opt not to come back.

Directors voted 7-2 in favor of the plan.

Administrators outlined the plans for reopening the schools amid the pandemic, and said the on-campus option was selected based on the responses from parents and teachers who completed a survey the district sent out earlier this month.

“We looked at what does the majority of our community want, and it was clear they want a traditional reopening,” said Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers. “No one plan will appeal to everybody, no one plan will eliminate the possibility of transmitting the virus.”

The other options included a hybrid school year, with students attending on-campus classes part time and online classes the rest of the time, or distance learning.

According to the presentation, the on-campus learning plan consists of all-day classes at school, five days a week, with a one-hour delay in start time for teachers to address online classes.

The online learning program will mirror the district’s in-person curriculum.

The district will require students and staff members to wear face masks, but has not determined if or how a mask policy will be enforced.

Director Joseph Zupancic said he recommends the school district develop a policy on face masks because there will be students who do not comply.

No daily temperature checks will be conducted, but parents will be reminded daily not to send their children to school if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, including cough and fever.

If a student does show symptoms, a nurse will conduct a health screening and arrangements will be made for the student to go home.

Additionally, each school is going to establish safety precautions to best match their individual environments.

The plan is based on Washington County operating in the green phase during the COVID-19 pandemic. If the county moves into the yellow phase because of an increase of cases, the school district will operate at 50% of student capacity.

School board director Zeffie Carroll, who along with Zupancic voted against the reopening plan, expressed concerns about the plan, which does not require social distancing.

Maintaining a social distance of 6 feet apart is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other health agencies as an important way to avoid exposure to coronavirus and slowing its spread.

Administrators said social distancing “will be achieved to the greatest extent possible,” and that the amount of social distancing the district can implement will be determined when the schools find out how many students opt for distance learning.

As for transportation, under the current guidelines school buses will operate at normal capacity, but parents will have the option to drive their children to school, which will reduce the number of students riding buses.

According to the survey, as many as 20% of parents and guardians indicated they would consider online learning for their child.

“You can’t come back traditionally and get 1,700 kids in a high school 6 feet apart – that’s just not possible. You can’t transport 5,400 students with our current bus fleet and achieve social distancing,” said Chambers.

Chambers said the adoption of the plan was the first step in developing a more detailed plan, and administrators and stakeholders will continue to work on it over the summer months.

Canon-McMillan is among the first school districts to adopt a back-to-school plan. The plan must be submitted to the state Department of Education.

Canon-McMillan resident and parent Jamie Bails Richardson said in a Facebook response that she is disturbed the reopening plan “was based upon polling parents instead of science,” and doesn’t believe it addresses what’s best for the entire community in the long haul.

“The infection rate across the country is going up, not down,” she wrote.

School district solicitor Jocelyn Kramer said the plan aligns with DOE requirements, and she asserts the remote learning option far exceeds distance learning curriculums implemented by other school districts.

“Certainly there are greater protections people recommend in some certain circumstances, but I think everyone recognizes traditional public schools can’t comply with every singe best practice recommendation, and you have to do the best you can,” she said.

'A love for the game'

In 1890, 34 years before baseball player Clarence Bruce Jr. was born, the National Association of Base Ball Players reached a “gentleman’s agreement” to bar Black players from Major League Baseball.

But during the nearly half-century before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Black baseball players established Negro League Baseball, a wildly popular professional league of their own that produced some of the best ball players to ever play the game.

Pittsburgh was home to two of the most dominant Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.

And Bruce, who was born in Pittsburgh and whose extended family lives in Washington, was the starting second baseman for the Grays and won a championship with the team in 1948.

“He had such a love for the game. My mother, Joan, was very proud to watch her big brother play professional baseball and would absolutely light up every time she talked about it,” said Bob Griffin of Washington, Bruce’s nephew. “He was humble, and he didn’t talk about himself a lot. He talked much more about the guys he played with – Luke Easter, Buck Leonard, Junior Gilliam – and how good they were. The best players in the Negro Leagues were every bit as good, if not better, than players in organized baseball.”

Negro Leagues teams, in fact, regularly played games against white teams on the barnstorming circuit, and won more than they lost.

In a famous 1934 exhibition game, Satchel Paige and the Crawfords beat the St. Louis Cardinals and pitcher Dizzy Dean, two weeks after the Cardinals had won the World Series.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Negro National League, started on Feb. 13, 1920, by Rube Foster, an outstanding former pitcher and a businessman who envisioned a Black alternative to the major leagues.

MLB was set to celebrate Negro Leagues Baseball this weekend, but the COVID-19 pandemic has scuttled those plans.

In its inaugural season, the league fielded eight teams – and it was immediately successful. In the first year, more than 400,000 fans traveled to sandlots, country fields and ballparks to watch Negro League games.

The Negro Leagues’ contributions to baseball were significant, said Dr. Raymond Doswell, vice president and curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

Without them, Jackie Robinson probably wouldn’t have gotten that chance to play for the Dodgers.

“The Negro Leagues nurtured the opportunity for Black athletes interested in baseball to have a place to ply their trade. Had there not been a Negro League to help nurture the Black athlete, we wouldn’t have the players we have in baseball,” said Doswell.

Bruce’s son, Kirk Bruce, said his father was grateful for the opportunity to play with, and against, baseball greats.

In the 1948 World Series, Bruce and the Grays squared off against the Birmingham Black Barons, led by Willie Mays, and Kirk Bruce said his father often expressed that he considered it a privilege to face Mays, who went on to become one of the best to play the game.

A passion for baseball

Bruce was born in 1924 in Pittsburgh, the oldest of six children of Clarence Bruce Sr., a head waiter at the Roosevelt Downtown Hotel, and Blanche Bruce, a homemaker.

Bruce shared his father’s passion for baseball, and from the time he was 10 years old, he accompanied his dad to Crawfords and Grays home games to watch future Hall of Fame players, including Paige, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston, play.

Bruce developed into a star athlete at Westinghouse High School, and attended the University of Pittsburgh until 1943, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II.

Bruce fought in the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 – a fact his family only learned about after finding his military records following his death from a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 65.

Bruce was discharged from the Army in 1945, after the war ended, and the following year he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. In 1947, he joined his hometown Grays, where he played for two seasons and earned $300 a month.

The Grays split their home games between Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. According to Doswell, the Grays often played day games at Forbes Field and then rode the team bus to play night games at their alternate home.

When they were on the road, Bruce and the Grays players either had to stay at African-American hotels or with Black host families.

“They played for the love of the game. They endured a lot and they encountered some things when they traveled,” said Bruce’s daughter, Jennifer Bruce Scott.

While the Negro Leagues enjoyed a heyday, they began to struggle after Jackie Robinson started to play with the Dodgers and other major league teams signed the best African-American players, and attendance at games declined.

So Bruce headed to Canada, where he was signed by the Provincial League’s Farnham Pirates in Quebec.

He played for the Pirates for two years before he hung up his cleats after the 1950 season.

Bruce returned home to Pittsburgh, and in 1952 he married Marguerite Cole, a former high school volleyball player who had graduated from West Virginia State University and was a physical education teacher.

Kirk Bruce said his father was offered a tryout with the Cleveland Indians in 1953, but turned it down.

Bruce worked for 35 years as a clerk for the U.S. Post Office and U.S. Postal Service.

He also discovered a love for the game of golf, and the natural athlete became a skilled golfer and instructor. He played often at The Dandy Duffer, an African-American golf club, and taught golf lessons at Cool Springs.

Bruce and Marguerite passed their athleticism to Kirk and Jennifer, and the couple were staples at their children’s sporting events, cheering them on – Bruce animatedly, Marguerite silently.

Kirk Bruce was a starting point guard for Pitt and was a key part of the 1974 basketball team that went 24-5 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals. He later served as Pitt’s women’s basketball coach, leading the Panthers to their first 20-win season in 1993, and associate athletic director before he retired.

Jennifer is the second-leading scorer in Pitt basketball history, men’s or women’s, and will be inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame this fall. She is an outpatient nurse for Allegheny Health Network. A former girls’ and women’s basketball coach, she now is a high school and college referee.

“I couldn’t have had two better role models than my parents,” said Jennifer.

Mainstream newspapers didn’t regularly cover Negro League games, so statistical information on many of the players, including Bruce, isn’t available.

But the stories of players like Bruce “are as important to us as any other,” Doswell contends.

“His may be more important because here is a person who made a choice, even though all these things were imposed on him – segregation, racism – and he had agency, the ability to act independently, despite all those things, and to overcome those major obstacles,” said Doswell. “He may not be the most talented or the most recognized Negro Leagues player, but he used his choice to make a world for himself. Those are the important stories to understand why the Negro Leagues and baseball are so important to the Black community.”

Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation and Josh Gibson’s great-grandson, said Pittsburgh has embraced its Negro League teams and their history.

“This is a sports town, and the fans haven’t forgotten about the Negro League teams. They realize we have two of the greatest teams to ever play,” said Gibson. “The city has embraced the tradition, and they recognize the significance of the Negro League.”

Kirk said one of his father’s happiest moments occurred in September 1988 when the Pittsburgh Pirates raised a Homestead Grays flag to commemorate the 1948 Grays championship team, and Bruce was selected to speak on behalf of his teammates, who stood alongside him.

It’s not lost on Gibson that the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues is occurring amid calls for racial equality following the death of George Floyd.

“Josh Gibson has been dead for over 70 years, and it’s a shame that the things he was going through then, we are still going through today,” he said.

Jennifer said it wasn’t until she was a student at Pitt that she realized the significance of her father playing in the Negro League.

“The importance of the league, and the significance of what my father and the other players did, didn’t occur to me while I was growing up,” she said. “I remember thinking, wow, this is a really big deal. I’m proud of him.”

Washington County adds 3 new coronavirus cases

Three additional cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Washington County, with the total number of cases in the county now at 187, according to numbers released Friday by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Greene County stayed at 35 cases. However, Allegheny County saw a spike of 61 additional cases, the second-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic. The county has seen 379 hospitalizations caused by the deadly pathogen since March, and 183 deaths. The total case count in Allegheny County is 2,382.

Across Pennsylvania, 600 additional positive cases of COVID-19 were recorded, bringing the statewide total to 84,370. There have also been 22 additional deaths, bringing that total to 6,579.

On Friday, 12 more counties in Pennsylvania moved into the green phase of reopening, and Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Lebanon County, the last county remaining in the yellow phase, will go green next Friday.

Lebanon County is sandwiched between Reading and Hershey.

“We will soon have all of our counties in green,” Wolf said. “A milestone worth a cautious celebration of the hard work and collaborative spirit of Pennsylvanians. But we must remember that the restrictions that remain in the green phase will help us to continue to enjoy the freedoms this phase allows for.”