Exclusive behind-the-scenes look at COVID-19 preps for Montour School District

Montour schools lets Channel 11 inside to see how they're preparing for class in the fall

This is crunch time for school districts across our area to come up with their COVID back to school plans. Whether it’s online, in-person, or a combination or both, it’s a challenging process. The clock is ticking and some districts are further along than others.

11 Investigates got an exclusive tour of changes being made at the Montour School District in Kennedy Township. A back-to-school survey sent to families in the community showed that 85-percent want kid to go back to the classroom, so the district is converting all its buildings to make them COVID ready.

Majority: “Go back to class”

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Nicole Lugaila is a Montour parent with two boys in 3rd and 5th grades. She says they’re ready to go back.

“My kids want to come back. They’re tired of mom being teacher and being there with them 24/7,” she said.

Montour Mom Rachael Hoy has three kids-- in 3rd, 4th and 11th grades. She wants her kids to go back to class, too—for both academic and socialization reasons.

“There’s more than just academics when it comes to school,” she said. “They’ll get to be around their friends, just some normalcy in their life.”

Safety First

Montour Superintendent Dr. Chris Stone says the district received $450,000 in grant money from the federal CARES Act, and they’re using that money to offset costs to buy new supplies and equipment for COVID mitigation.

“We revamped cleaning procedures from A to Z,” Stone said. “Making sure we clean the classrooms and high touch frequency areas on a regular basis, every day, multiple times throughout the day.”

With a new and intensified effort on daily cleaning measures, the district purchased sanitizing sprayers and fog machines to disinfect classrooms.

The district also purchased face masks and even face shields for every student.

“In the event where they’re in the classroom and they prefer to switch from the mask to the face shield, they can do that,” he said.

Strict social distancing measures will be in place when classes resume August 25th-- with desks at least 4 to 5 feet apart, hallway traffic direction controlled, elementary students eating lunches in their classrooms, and middle/high school students eating on a staggered schedule in the cafeteria and other areas.

Other safety measures include daily temperature checks for everyone entering the buildings, converting water fountains to bottle refill stations only, and placing mobile, no-touch hand sanitizing units in all common areas and classrooms.

“”We want to make sure that when the kids come through the building parents trust us to keep them safe,” Stone said.

Transportation Changes

The district is also asking parents to drive kids to school if possible, to reduce the number of students on school buses. For the first time, juniors and seniors will also be allowed to drive themselves to school if they can and want to.

“We had about 30-percent of families respond, so far, to say they will drive each day, so we don’t anticipate needing extra buses,” Stone said. For those who do take the bus, mandatory masks will be required.

Live-streaming from Classrooms

For the 15-percent of families who indicated they’re not comfortable having kids come back to the classroom yet, Montour has purchased web-cameras to provide live video-streaming direct from a child’s classroom.

Montour’s Director of Operations and Technology Darryl Yonkers demonstrated how it would work for 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi. A camera is set up at the front of the classroom and pointed at the teacher. Using Google Classroom, the teacher can see a gallery of students joining in from home. The kids will be able to participate in real time and can even ask the teacher questions.

“They can also screen share,” Yonkers said. “Write things, present things,” he demonstrated, writing the word “test” on the white board.

Families have Options

In addition to attending school in-person or through live-streams, students can also choose an all-cyber option, if they prefer to learn at their own pace.

Montour will hold three Virtual Town Hall meetings to discuss the options with parents on July 28, 29, and 30th at 7pm.

The district is asking families to make their final choices on whether kids will attend in-class or remotely, by early August.

Some Pitt students will be living in hotels instead of residence halls this year