Reopening Letter to the Community

Dear Union Community: 

Last night, our school board approved our return to school plan for the 2020-2021 school year.  We wanted to take this opportunity today to share with you those plans and to explain the reasoning for making this decision. 

I understand that this decision will not be popular with every parent, but it’s difficult to have a decision in a situation like this that would be popular with everyone.  While parents may disagree with this decision, we’re committed to working together to make it work for everyone and to provide students with the best possible education during this experience.  I know some parents will feel angry or disappointed in this decision — and those feelings are understandable. What has made Union unique is that our community has always rallied around our school even in difficult times.  It’s possible to disagree with this decision but continue to work toward the best possible outcome for all students.  

Throughout this process, the district has been committed to returning to as normal an educational environment as possible while maintaining the safety of our students and staff.  While we believe that we have a comprehensive plan to provide in-person instruction as safely as possible, there are still concerns about the Covid-19 situation in our community.  The research on Covid-19 and children is far from conclusive and exercising caution in our return to school plan is the prudent decision.  Since kids haven’t been in school since the height of the pandemic, there’s still a lot of unknowns about how the pandemic will be impacted by in-person education.  By waiting to bring back students to the buildings, we have the benefit of seeing how the situation progresses in other schools across the region and state.  We can use this data to inform our return to school plan.  That means if that data shows that a return to school goes well, we can feel confident in our return to school plan.  If, however, the data shows that significant spread in schools, we have time to adjust our plan.   

The start date for students has been moved to September 8, 2020.  Staff will still report to school on August 24.  August 24 – September 4 will be Act 80 Days for staff and will not need to be made up by students.  These Act 80 Days will be used for teachers to engage in professional development to better prepare them for virtual and live/synchronous learning.   We will also use these days to develop a distribution schedule to get Chromebooks and other materials to students.  

On September 8, 2020, all students will begin with virtual instruction that will be live and synchronous.  I want to stress to our community that this will not be like the virtual learning that occurred last spring.  We realize there were many challenges to that plan, and we have been working to ensure that the start of school is the best educational experience possible for students.  Students will attend live classes with their Union teachers — the same teachers you know and trust to provide your children with a quality education.  Students will have the opportunity to interact with their teachers, ask questions, and get help daily.  It’s a structured approach to virtual learning where students follow their normal class schedule and attend their classes each day.  Students should anticipate the same expectations, deadlines, and rigorous learning that they would expect from their teachers in school.    

In-person education will begin on Monday, October 5 for those who choose to send their students back to school.  Returning to in-person education is our goal as long as the Covid-19 situation in Lawrence County permits in-person instruction.  Our health and safety plan will be posted to the district website, along with what students can expect in both the synchronous virtual environment and when returning to school in-person.  

Some parents have expressed concerns about having students return to the building at all this school year.  Parents will still have the option to continue remote learning after October 5 if they choose to do so.  Students will be able to live-stream classes with Union teachers rather than returning to the building if that option is selected by parents. 

We understand some parents may choose to pursue a cyber program for their children.  While we hate to see any student leave for a cyber school, we do want to make our community aware of our in-house Cyber U Program through Edgenuity.  

We have partnered with our Cyber U provider for several years, and we find students are more successful in this program than an outside cyber provider.  

Students who attend Cyber U remain Union students.  If a student attends an outside cyber school, they are no longer counted as Union students (just as if a student moved to a neighboring school district, they become a student of that district).  Because of our partnership, students who attend the Cyber U Academy remain as Union students, receive a Union report card and transcript, and could receive a Union diploma at graduation.  Cyber U students can participate in student activities such as Student Council, school dances, Envirothon, or other student clubs.  This option costs the district far less than if a student attends an outside cyber school, so the money stays with the student at Union and allows that money to be invested in student programs.  Ultimately, this eases the burden on our taxpayers and ensures the quality and scope of programs we’re able to offer.  

School athletics are governed by the PIAA.  As of now, fall sports will continue as scheduled and permitted to do so regardless of how schools choose to begin the year.  Ultimately, the PIAA will make any decisions about sports, but for now, practices will continue as scheduled.  

Although a difficult decision and a very polarizing topic, everyone who had a part in making this decision kept students’ best interest in the forefront.  Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I hope the community recognizes that it was made out of concern for the health and safety of students.  Regardless of our personal opinions, we have to make the plan work for our kids.  I understand that this decision is a burden on parents, but hopefully, that burden is slightly lessened by the temporary nature of virtual instruction.  As soon as possible, we want to return to normalcy.  I’m reminded of a Henry Ford quote that epitomizes what I think of our Union community, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  I’m confident in our collective ability to find success, even in the face of these difficult times.  

I would be happy to speak with anyone who has questions.  I can be reached at m_ross@union.k12.pa.us or  at  724-658-4501 ext 2301.  

Thank you,

Dr. Michael A. Ross

 

Click the link to view the Union Area Phased School Reopening

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