Mars Area School District will stage unthinkable to train staff, teachers

Parents want online policies

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Mars Area School District staff will be trained in various scenarios involving school safety during an Oct. 14 in-service day.

Officer Conrad Pfeifer of the Middlesex police department recommended the program to follow up on an informational program on school shootings and bombings he presented last year. The school board approved the training program Tuesday night.

Officer Pfeifer said there have been 100 school shooting incidents since the 1999 incident at Columbine High School.

"It doesn't happen in New York or Detroit or Chicago," he said. "It doesn't happen in the big areas. It's happening in areas like this."

Officer Pfeifer said he recommends two sessions, including locking down the buildings with the entire staff -- one session for kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers and one with middle and high school teachers.

He said the scenarios will be realistic, including playing a disk that has the fire alarm going off and kids yelling over the public address system.

"You come in full speed and hear the noise, it is overwhelming," he said.

Triage will be covered, as well as setting up an incident command post with the superintendent, principal and heads of the maintenance and communications departments.

In other business, the board heard concerns from parents about new initiatives.

Kelly Mullen said the district needs a policy defining what happens if a student cannot do his homework because the Internet is down.

Mars Area provided a laptop computer to all high school students this year, and is putting most assignments online. Also, some subjects are using the "flipped classroom," where students do hands-on work in class and watch an instructional video at home.

Mrs. Mullen said her son could not access two assignments in the first week of school, and the teacher said students would get a zero if they could not obtain their lessons online.

"That, I think, is something that doesn't make any sense to me. It doesn't make any sense to any parents," she said.

"This is going to affect every child in the district that is under this computer initiative. You have to have a policy in place that the teachers cannot pick and choose how to grade that child."

She also suggested a policy that requires lessons to be posted online by early evening.

"There has to be some policy of a time frame that if a lesson isn't posted by 7 o'clock that you are not responsible for checking every minute until 10 o'clock when you go to bed to see if you can do your homework," she said. "Technology can facilitate learning, but it can definitely hinder it if you aren't thinking of all the consequences."

Assistant superintendent Matthew Friedman acknowledged that they are "working through technical difficulties with online resources.

Amy and Robert Nassif complained about the new start time at the elementary school. The bell time was pushed back five minutes, and the window during which students can arrive cut in half, to give teachers a common planning time. Many elementary students, including their daughter, are arriving late, they said.

The Nassifs said there seems to be a trend in Mars Area of taking instruction time away from students for other reasons.

Two years ago, the district instituted planned two-hour delays for staff development. Also, in-service days under state Act 80 are counted as instructional days even though students are not in school.

When combined, those three events leave students with 937 hours of instruction; the state minimum is 900 hours, Mrs. Nassif said.

"I'm seeing the trend in the district that the kids are having less and less education time provided because of the school board's initiatives," she said. "These children are not being educated properly."

In other action, the board approved allowing up to eight members of the high school student council to attend the state conference Nov. 14-16 in Boyertown High School in eastern Pennsylvania. Jessica Narwold, faculty adviser, said the students will be staying with host families.

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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