WELLSBORO — In a lengthy, sometimes heated meeting Thursday night, the Wellsboro Area School District board of directors split votes three times on returning to in-person learning, going to remote learning after the holidays and canceling all extracurriculars during remote learning times.
The discussion often centered around the board’s responsibility and where it ends. While Superintendent Dr. Brenda Freeman urged the board to put aside emotion and make the best decision for students, opinion on what exactly is the best varied.
The three votes came at the end of more than two hours of discussion.
Voting to reopen the school for in-person learning on Dec. 7 were Linda West, Matt Feil, Chris Gastrock, Wayne Hackett, Sue Judlin and Dave Messineo with Tracy Doughtie, John Hoover and Lee Stocks Jr. opposed.
Before the votes, Freeman said she sought input from administrators and faculty, with about half in favor and half opposed on all three topics. She recommended return to school because: students learn better in-person, no positive COVID-19 cases can be traced to school contact, and it provides a place for children of parents who must work, which are often younger students.
“I don’t take this very lightly, and I don’t feel like this is overblown,” Freeman said. “I do understand we have substantial spread. But I worry about those little ones out there that don’t have a place to go. That’s what keeps me up at night — what will happen to those students who have no place to go?”
Parents who do not want to send students to school can still choose remote education or online school, said Freeman. Originally the district asked parents to commit to one option for an entire marking period, but the district will work with families on whatever choice they make, she said.
Whether students remain in school for between Thanksgiving and the holidays depends on whether there is any spread in a school, Freeman said. If one person in a building tests positive, in-person education will continue. Between two and four people, the building will close for three to five days. If five or more in a building are positive, the building will close until contact tracing is completed.
The board next voted 5-4 to use remote learning Jan. 4-8 when school resumes after the holidays. Voting in favor were Doughtie, Hoover, Judlin, Messineo and Stocks with Feil, Gastrock, Hackett and West opposed.
Freeman recommended remote learning to see the results of community spread from the holidays and gather info on staffing and contact tracing.
The discussion grew heated before the third vote: whether to allow extracurricular activities, including athletics, when the district is in remote learning mode. Voting in favor of canceling extracurriculars were Hackett, Hoover, Judlin, Messineo, Stocks and Doughtie with Feil, Gastrock and West opposed.
Some board members contended that it is up to parents to decide when to send students to school.
“I am pissed that we are dictating what parents can do,” Gastrock said. “It’s not up to the nine of us to decide what parents can do. If the kids want to come in and do extra activities, it is up to the parents, the taxpayer to send their child or not.”
Other board members said it is their responsibility to look after the safety of students and employees, due to the actions in the community.
“People are not making right decisions. I don’t want to call people idiots, but people are idiots,” Stocks said, adding, “We were elected to make the right decision for people. We already made the decision for 15 hundred kids and X number of families to go remote. Now we’re going to change with extracurricular activities? That does not make sense to me.”