Carter & MacRae 2.jpg

Melissa, right, and her 9-year-old- son, Juleon, go through a food line at Carter & MacRae Elementary School during the coronavirus shutdown on Monday, March 16, 2020.

THE ISSUE

Several Lancaster County superintendents spoke to LNP | LancasterOnline’s Alex Geli earlier this week about how they’re handling Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to close all of the state’s public schools for two weeks (from March 16-27). “It’s been chaotic trying to navigate the ripple effects,” Geli wrote. “When schools close ... learning is merely one of the losses that take place.” Those ripple effects must address the reality that school is where many students eat, get basic medical treatment and access technology.

Indeed, the ripple effects are immense.

And our school districts might be dealing with them for a long time. The governor noted that, at the conclusion of the two-week closure, he “will reevaluate and decide whether continued closure is needed.”

With that in mind, we should all extend our appreciation to the superintendents, educators and staff members who are working incredibly hard during this emergency to ensure that students’ needs are being met.

They are certainly feeling the enormity of their roles.

“It really is eye-opening,” Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter told Geli.

“It’s just been a constant adjustment to stay up to speed,” Eastern Lancaster County Superintendent Bob Hollister said.

“It’s getting harder and harder,” School District of Lancaster Superintendent Damaris Rau said.

We hear you.

For those who might have missed Geli’s reporting, here’s a look at some of the important issues our school administrators are facing.

Feeding students

The federal government cleared Pennsylvania to serve meals to students from low-income families while the closures persist. Most county school districts enacted plans “to make sure students, regardless of their free or reduced lunch status, are fed by offering ‘grab and go’ meals in the community,” Geli reported.

But the logistics can be daunting.

Solanco School District covers 188 square miles — a fifth of all land in Lancaster County. Getting meals to those who need it requires a lot of help. Superintendent Brian Bliss said making the necessary decisions in an ever-fluid situation is “rather intense. ... Plans developed one day sometimes are changed for the next.”

We can empathize with that.

Likewise, “Penn Manor is faced with how to provide meals to students in a district that covers 113 square miles — the second largest in the county,” Geli wrote. The district came up with a plan to deliver meals to school bus stops with the help of its contract busing company.

Hats off to that kind of outside-the-box thinking. We’re all going to need it moving forward.

Meanwhile, the School District of Lancaster gave out 1,666 meals Monday, Geli reported. This district has about 11,000 students, of whom 91% are economically disadvantaged. Reaching the needs of just 1,666 took a tremendous team effort.

Geli spoke with Kelly Wilson, a food services team leader at School District of Lancaster. She — and many others — began work at 5:45 a.m. Monday to package meals that included a sandwich, carrots, apple slices, a cinnamon roll and juice.

The meals were prepared and packaged at McCaskey and shipped to each of the district’s schools; some were delivered.

“We just love our kids and want to make sure that they’re taken care of,” said Miriam Ortega-Brown, a reading specialist at Carter and MacRae Elementary School.

Even in normal times, we don’t do enough to applaud the staff members who keep our public schools running and their students fed. That they rise to the challenge at this moment of fear and uncertainty is worthy of a standing ovation. (Even if we must all do it from the comfort of our own homes.)

Go to bit.ly/SchoolMeals2020 for the latest on how Lancaster County school districts are providing meals during the school closure.

Other issues

Lancaster County’s school districts also have “had to figure out how to return items like medication, medical equipment and laptops to students, and what resources to share to keep students engaged in learning while they’re away,” Geli reported, additionally noting that School District of Lancaster has kept medical clinics at several schools open, but only by appointment.

“We’re making sure our families who are most vulnerable continue to receive the support that they need,” Rau said.

As we all look for ways to care for the most vulnerable during this crisis, it is inspiring to see our school districts set such a positive example.

Their most difficult decisions might lie ahead, though.

Commencement ceremonies. Meeting the needs of special education students. The potential — and pitfalls — of online learning. All these are issues that school administrators will need to face if the school closures extend beyond two weeks.

“Much of that depends how lenient the state and federal governments will be in terms of waiving certain requirements,” Geli noted.

On that score, the state Department of Education announced Thursday afternoon that it is canceling all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year as a result of COVID-19.

We think that’s a good move. We’re in uncharted waters now with the pandemic, and our school districts need continued strong guidance and support from state and federal officials moving forward.

Parents and students are going to need to be patient as school administrators hammer out the thorniest issues. And parents may need to help their kids navigate their emotions should proms, spring sports and graduations be postponed or canceled.

This crisis has been a test of everyone’s resilience.

“If there’s any silver lining in this crisis,” Leichliter told Geli, “we are realizing how interconnected we are as people, and people are stepping up to assist others.”

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