Parents want answers on plan to consolidate Hempfield Area School District’s middle schools

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. — Parents want the Hempfield Area School District to answer more questions before voting on a plan to consolidate the district’s middle schools.

“In reality, we feel like there are a lot of questions that need to be answered that the board needs answers to as well as the community,” said Erin Johns Speese.

The current plan involves closing Harrold Middle School and moving around 400 students to either Wendover or West Hempfield middle schools.

Like any parent, Erin Johns Speese wants the best for her kids.

“If the consolidation would mean my students would be in smaller classes and have a lot more opportunities, it would be less discouraging,” said Johns Speese. “But our history with the district has not necessarily shown that that would be the case.”

The Hempfield Area School District cited declining enrollment and an aging building as two major factors for needing to close Harrold. With inflation, the district says necessary renovations would cost around $30 million.

“We’ve asked the district if that is the only price tag,” said Johns Speese. “Is that an inflated number, as in we’re going to do everything? If you do a renovation, there does need to be ADA compliance, which is very important for our students with disabilities. So we would like to see that happen. But we don’t know if there are other alternatives in the renovations. What absolutely has to be changed and what does not? What’s aesthetic? We would like to see other pricing options.”

Other questions include the impact on class sizes and teachers. The district says teachers would be reassigned and that class sizes would remain the same.

“We would like to see this as an opportunity for the district to actually say we could keep these schools open,” said Johns Speese. “We could start working on lowering class sizes because of the declining demographics, and the more one on one-time interactions our students can have with teachers, the better their education is going to be.”

Kristen Septak lives less than two miles from Harrold. Next year, not one, but two of her kids would be going to Harrold. She says any move would more than double her kids’ commute.

“What is the plan?” asked Kristen Septak. “Whose kids are going where? How long are they going to be on buses?”

The district says bus routes would continue to be no more than 55 minutes.

“I think a lot of the Wendover parents and the West Hempfield parents don’t even realize how this is going to affect them, because each school is going to get probably around 200 new students,” said Septak. “We’re looking at bus times. We’re looking at classroom sizes, teacher-to-student ratio, teachers losing jobs. Are they going to hire new teachers for these positions? Are they going to replace teachers who are retiring? There’s also a concern for the special education program because right now, Harrold houses a lot of the support classes — autistic support, emotional support — and they bus those kids from Wendover and West Hempfield. So they’re saying it’s going to be better because they’re going to now offer that at West Hempfield and Wendover at both schools, but currently they don’t even have enough staff to do that at the schools.”

The next board meeting is Monday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the administration building. If you can’t attend, you can email comments to krivusj@hasdpa.net by 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21.

A final vote was scheduled for January, but it’s since been pushed back to February.

Parents created a petition to keep Harrold Middle School open. So far, it has about 800 signatures.

For more information on the “Middle School Reorganization,” including plans for Harrold Middle School to be used by ninth graders during the high school renovations, click here.

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