Trinity school board

Karen Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

Kelly Conner thanks the Trinity Area School Board for voting in favor of elementary students returning to full time in-person classes starting Monday. Students in grades six through 12 will return four days a week.

Trinity Area School District elementary students are returning to the classroom full time starting Monday.

Students in grades six through 12 will return to school Monday through Thursday, with remote instruction on Fridays.

The school board voted 8-1 on Thursday to resume in-person classes, with director Daniel Piatt voting against the motion.

“The hybrid model was never a long-term plan for us. It provided an opportunity for us to implement mitigation strategies and for staff and students to practice social distancing, and to evaluate how effective those strategies are,” said Superintendent Michael Lucas. “We know they’re effective, and we’re comfortable returning. We believe we can provide a safe learning environment.”

Additionally, a number of Trinity parents have pushed for students to return to the classroom since school opened in September with the hybrid option.

Lucas said 90% of the district’s parents indicated in a survey that they wanted students to return full time.

“We certainly listen to our community,” said Lucas. “We do believe this is a choice for parents to make, if they want to send their students, or if they want to utilize our cyber option.”

Lucas said the decision also was based on metrics from the Department of Health and consultation with district’s Pandemic Team.

Lucas said the school district has spent about $1.4 million on cleaning and mitigation strategies since the coronavirus pandemic began, including improved air filtration. The district also worked with the state Department of Health to implement safety measures as more students return.

Among the steps the district has taken are:

  • Hiring three additional elementary schoolteachers at a cost of $190,000 to reduce class sizes;
  • Using larger instructional areas such as the high school library and gymnasium to help maintain 6-foot social distancing;
  • Removing furniture from classes to increase space;
  • Adjusting class rosters to reduce class sizes.

Still, Lucas conceded, there will be times when students are less that 6 feet apart from each other.

About 25 people attended Thursday’s meeting, which was held in the high school auditorium.

Parent Kelly Conner, who spoke on behalf of a group of elementary parents who attended the meeting, thanked the school board for its decision.

“The group of friends and I would like to thank you guys for hearing us. We enjoyed seeing the letter come out the other day that our elementary kids are going back in-person five days,” said Conner. “You have no idea how much it means to us that our kids are going to be in-person again. Our kids are super-excited.”

But another parent, Bruce Sakalik, asked why the school district chose to return on Monday, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Washington County and across Pennsylvania continues to rise.

“The numbers haven’t dropped. In fact, compared to when school began, the numbers are up,” said Sakalik. “It just seems to go against what you think would be the norm.”

Board member Jim Knapp said he originally voted against returning to school full time in-person, but changed his mind because of the overwhelming number of parents who wanted their children to get back to class and the recommendation of the Pandemic Team.

“I voted no originally, and yes, the numbers are up, but I believe that’s what the majority of the people want here in Washington County,” said Knapp. “People want it, the majority, and we’re giving it to them.”

The school district can return to either hybrid or full remote learning models based on the recommendations of the Department of Health and the district’s pandemic adviser.

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