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East Pennsboro Area School District pushed to start completely virtual with the concern of safety and staff shortage

East Pennsboro Area planned to start the 2020-2021 school year on a hybrid schedule. They hope to move to hybrid before the end of the first marking period.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — As students across Pennsylvania continue to filter back to school whether online, in person or hybrid learning programs, districts are facing challenges finding enough qualified substitute teachers and aides.

East Pennsboro Area School District, in Cumberland County, had full intentions of starting the 2020-2021 school year with a hybrid format; two days in person and three days virtual. 

But those plans changed, due to concerns for teachers with medical issues and then being able to find enough qualified aides in the community to be in the classrooms with students.

“We want the experience of our children to be quality,' said Dr. Donna Dunar, East Pennsboro Area Superintendent. 'We want it to be engaging and exciting. We want it to be safe. So, we’re doing everything we can to try and ensure that, but there is so much beyond our control that it’s really hard.” 

The district shares substitutes with other school districts and that, to them, became an even bigger concern.

“Pennsylvania and the nation have experienced a teacher shortage going back well before COVID-19 hit. It’s been a concern for many years. We’re seeing a declining number of college students majoring in and earning degrees in education," Christ Lilienthal, Pennsylvania State Education Association assistant director of communications (PSEA). Lilienthal also says the statistics of schools moving virtually is because of, first and foremost, safety of all involved.

Pennsylvania State Senator, Kristin Phillips-Hill says, right now, PA requirements are to have a four year degree. The new proposal would allow people who have completed two years of college or 60-credits to become a certified substitute.

“It might be a good way to incentive people into the classroom. Give them that exposure to see what it’s like and encourage people who have an interest and passion for educating our youth," Phillips-Hill eluded.

Safety is the key component of most school deciding to go with virtual or hybrid plans. East Pennsboro hopes to get enough aides or substitutes to help ease into hybrid learning before the end of the first marking period.

Dr. Dunar says, “Everybody is all hands-on deck, working really hard to try to move the ship forward. So, students can learn, be safe and that it be a great experience for them."

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