Wolf shuts down K-12 schools
Local school officials scrambled to handle closures Friday only to have the decision pulled from their hands at the last minute.
“We had already sent some communication out. This is absolutely frustrating,” said Brian White, Butler Area School District superintendent.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday afternoon all Pennsylvania kindergarten through grade 12 schools will be closed from March 16 to 27 in response to the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic. Shortly after, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a statement that all Catholic schools and religious education centers in the region were following suit and closing their doors until the end of the month as well.
Wolf’s announcement comes following numerous districts throughout the commonwealth individually closing their schools for different periods of time.
White said superintendents statewide tuned into a webinar with the state Department of Education on Friday morning that told superintendents they individually would be responsible for closure decisions.
White was surprised the state was allowing local superintendents to make the final decision in the best interest of their districts. However, as he was about to announce steps to close Butler schools, Wolf made his announcement, thus overriding the district’s plan.
“We all made decisions and now we got guidance,” White said. “It’s a very frustrating experience for our students, our faculty and our school districts.”
White planned to close schools for two weeks and use flexible instruction days and remote learning capabilities to keep students working through that time. He said his understanding of Wolf’s announcement was remote instruction may continue.
White plans to reassess the situation March 25, but because the state took over, Butler’s superintendent is not sure who will make the next decision regarding school closures. He stressed he will continue to communicate updates as they become available.
“I hope as a community people will pull together and help one another,” White said.
Shortly before Wolf’s announcement regarding statewide closures, Mars Area School District announced it would implement flexible instruction days beginning next week.
According to an announcement from Superintendent Wesley Shipley, the district was to use an in-service day on Monday before shifting to online instruction Tuesday. In that communication, Shipley did not state when students would be permitted to return and said that all grounds and facilities would be closed to students, parents and the public.
David Foley, superintendent at the South Butler County School District, was pleased with Wolf’s decision.
“I’m glad the governor took the steps to close down schools in Pennsylvania,” Foley said. “I know our students, staff and parents are concerned. It’s difficult to learn when you’re constantly thinking about it.”
He said Pedro Rivera, department of education secretary, initially offered support to superintendents in deciding whether to close their schools.
“Then the governor recently took a couple of steps back on that and said it’s probably not a bad idea for districts to close,” Foley said.
Like everyone, Foley cannot predict what the local COVID-19 situation will be when students are slated to return to school March 30.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
South Butler teachers earlier in the week put together lesson packets for elementary students to use should the schools close. They were sent home with students Friday.
Knoch Middle and High School students will use Chromebooks issued by the district to study online.
Families in northern Butler County are trying to help each other during the two-week school shut down.
Cherry Township resident Michele Campbell said parents who are home during the day or have high school students who will be home during the shut down are using social media to connect with working parents of younger children in an effort to offer help.
Campbell said she has seen messages on social media saying “your kids can stay with me if you need day care” and “if you need childcare, I’ll watch your kids.”
She feels fortunate her two daughters, a junior and senior at Moniteau Junior/Senior High School, don’t need supervision and have jobs. She hopes their employer will give them more hours while the school is closed.
“We do a lot of that up here because we’re such a rural area. We kind of raise each others kids when we get the chance,” Campbell said of the outpouring of community support on social media. “I don’t have to worry about childcare. I work from home.”