SCRANTON – In just a matter of weeks, students will return to Catholic schools for in-person instruction across the Diocese of Scranton.
As students resume classes five days a week, the experience will be different at both the elementary and high school level with numerous safety and health protocols being put into place.
“We have put together a comprehensive plan that, above all else, prioritizes the best interest, safety and health of all students, faculty, staff and school families,” Jason Morrison, Chief Executive Officer and Diocesan Secretary of Education, said. “We are excited to welcome our students back to the classroom to provide the academically excellent and faith-filled experience that our families have come to expect.”
The last time students were in class was March 13. As cases of COVID-19 began to spike in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all schools closed as a precaution. Catholic schools in the diocese quickly transitioned to distance learning the following school day.
The back-to-school plan is being spearheaded by a Diocesan Health and Safety committee, which is comprised of diocesan and local school administration and clergy along with medical professionals with expertise in pediatrics, healthcare administration and quality assurance.
Each school has also created its own committee to help implement and guide the reopening process in its respective building.
“Catholic schools are inherently a partnership between the parent and the school. This is never more important than at this time and an even greater
partnership is now needed,” Catholic Schools Superintendent Kristen Donohue said. “Each day will actually begin with parents monitoring their child’s health.
With parental cooperation, we will be able to keep the schools open and safe.”
Some of the key components of the Diocese of Scranton’s reopening plan include the use of cohorts, physical distancing, masks and enhanced cleaning procedures.
Cohorts, or small groups of students in the same grade, have been recommended by many health organizations as an environmental measure to prevent the spread of disease. Students will remain together for the entire day, including attending lunch, recess and classes as a cohort.
“If we can keep that smaller group of students together, our individual students are not exposed to as many other children on a given day. If someone gets sick we know what students were near that student or teacher or individual,” Dr. April L. Troy, Board Certified Pediatrician and Pediatric Regional Education Coordinator for Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, said. Dr. Troy is a member of the Diocesan Health and Safety Committee and is also a parent with children in the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System.
By order of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, all students, faculty and staff will be required to wear face masks when in school. Masks will be able to be removed for eating and drinking and additional mask breaks will occur at specified times outside, when appropriate physical distancing can occur.
Physical distancing will also be a fundamental practice as students return to school. It will apply not only to the classroom, but also other spaces within the school building, including but not limited to hallways, cafeterias and gyms.
“Every school in the Diocese is already working on moving desks apart and having children face the same way, because we know the risk of transmission is less in those set-ups. Each principal and their administrative support team have been wonderful in coming up with new and innovative ways to use the space inside the schools,” Dr. Katherine Lincoln, Wound Care Specialist and Chair of the Clinical Quality Care Committee at Guthrie Hospital, said. Dr. Lincoln is also a parent and member of the Diocesan Health and Safety Committee.
Even though all schools are expected to reopen for in-person instruction, some families have expressed a desire for a virtual option for instruction. As a result, the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System is also offering a Diocesan Virtual Academy for the 2020-2021 school year. It will provide families the opportunity to begin their instruction completely online or transition into the DVA, if desired, during the year.
The Diocesan Virtual Academy will include both live and recorded instruction that will follow a set schedule similar to an in-person school day. Parents interested in the DVA were asked to express their interest in that option by last week.
Just like in-person instruction, the Diocesan Virtual Academy will be intentional about the inclusion of a Catholic identity across all grade levels and subject matters.
Virtual academy teachers will provide instruction for Virtual Academy students.
“Whether parents have chosen the inperson or virtual option, we will be able to partner with them to ensure their child achieves his or her God-given potential because we know each family and child so well,” Morrison said.
“Our smaller environment and assessment tools allow us to deliver a differentiated approach to each child’s education,” Donohue added. “Our dedicated faculty and administrators know each child personally and will be able to help him or her navigate the challenging nature of this time.”
More information on the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System’s safety plan for resuming in-person instruction as well as the Diocesan Virtual Academy can be found at www.dioceseofscranton.org.
The diocese’s Catholic schools serve students in four high schools and 15 elementary schools.