SMETHPORT — Masks/facial coverings and social distancing will be optional for students and staff while in school this coming school year in Smethport, one of several changes outlined in the district’s new Health and Safety Plan, which school directors approved at a special public meeting Monday.

In a letter to parents, guardians, caregivers and students, Superintendent Brice Benson wrote, “As part of our continual emphasis on a return to normal operations as permitted by state and federal governing authorities, full-time virtual options for our students will be limited to our third-party providers, (Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy and Warren County Cyber). Parents should contact their child’s building principal if they once again are electing a cyber option.”

Since academic results from throughout the state during the past year, backed by Centers for Disease Control guidance and federal and state guidelines show that students overwhelmingly perform best from in-person instruction, Smethport teachers will only “livestream” direct instruction in specific cases of a Pennsylvania Department of Health-mandated quarantine.

In addition, contact tracing for close contacts of a positive case of COVID-19 remains for unvaccinated students and staff.

However, masks are required on school transportation until the federal mask mandate regarding all public transportation is lifted.

In his letter, Benson wrote, “We may need to adjust our routines/procedures throughout the school year to meet ever-changing health and safety guidance from the state of Pennsylvania.”

For the 2021-22 school year, all students in K-12 will receive Chromebook laptops.

The district is using funds from the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was enacted to provide for the safe and sustainable opening of schools. These one-time grants, which are dispensed monthly, have been used for hiring additional staff, technological instruction, plexiglass shields and sanitizing.

At Monday’s meeting, President Dan Wertz noted that eight people had intended to address the directors. After Benson outlined the changes proposed in the 2021 Health and Safety Plan, which deals with the pandemic, only one person spoke. She shared concerns about parents putting their jobs at risk if they had to stay home frequently with young children during school quarantines.

Directors acted on a number of personnel matters. Tarah Rounsville and Caitlin Stickle were hired as temporary year-long substitute teachers at $27,000. Sherri Swanson was approved as a temporary substitute aide at $16,200 and Sandra Schermerhorn was hired as a temporary year-long custodian at the same salary.

All four positions are funded through the American Rescue Plan’s ESSER Fund.

Cheyenne Wilson was hired as an ELA teacher. Meanwhile, Bethany Frame, Krystal Hudak and Katie Watson were approved as aides.

Teri Spittler’ s resignation as head volleyball coach was accepted. Kim Cavallaro will take over these duties.

District officials have announced three important upcoming dates in August: 18th, seventh grade and new student orientation; 23, Back to School Night; and 25, opening day for students.