A Statement from Dr. Lisa Hess regarding ARP/ESSER Funds Use

Ashley Shannon
By Ashley Shannon January 25, 2022 14:44

At the January 10th and January 13th meetings, there were several false statements made about the district’s ESSER funds.  I did ask verbally at the January 13th board meeting for evidence of the statements and followed up in an email.  The response I received was that the information came directly from the PDE website, but no specific web pages were cited.  Some of the information was from the PDE website, but it was twisted to create a false narrative about the district’s eligibility and allowable use for those grants.  Other statements made were just made up, completely false, and could not be backed up by any kinds of evidence.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

So in light of those false statements, I would like to take a moment to clarify the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Fund Relief funds known as ESSER funds and the eligibility and allowable usage for those funds. 

The district has applied for three separate ESSER grants:  ESSER I, ESSER II, and the American Rescue Plan ESSER for a total of $6,643,257.00 in ESSER Funds.

Just like our annual Title I, II, III, and IV funds, ESSER funds have requirements in terms of how money can be used and many of the allowable usage of funds are exactly the same as what we abide by for those title funds.

For ESSER I the district received $460,242.00

Allowable Usage of Funds fell under Title II (Supporting Effective Instruction), purchasing educational technology to ensure all students were able to learn remotely, and providing mental health services and supports.  In addition, the district was required to share a portion of this ESSER grant with the Non-public schools that served our Title I eligible students.  That portion was $11,561.00

The ESSER II grant was approved for $2,045,520.00

Allowable Usage of Funds fell under Title IA (Improving Basic Programs), Title II (Supporting Effective Instruction), Title III( English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement), Title IV (Student Support and Academic Enrichment), school facility repairs and improvements (HVAC/Air Quality Systems), and providing mental health services and supports.

The ARP/ESSER III grant was submitted for approval for $4,137,495.00

Allowable usage of funds fell under Continuity of Services, meaning, how we will use ARP ESSER funds to sustain services to address students’ academic needs; students’ and staff social, emotional, and mental health needs; and student nutrition and food services.   It also fell under usage for Access to Instruction, Mitigation Strategies, and Facilities Improvements: How the district will use ARP ESSER funds to repair and improve school facilities to reduce risk of virus transmission, address environmental health hazards, and/or improve ventilation.  In addition, a minimum 20 percent reservation must be used  to address the impact of lost instructional time as required by section 2001(e)(1) of the ARP Act

Before we completed the ESSER/ARP Application, a survey was sent out to families to gather input on use of those funds around the following topics:  Academic Impact of Instructional Time, Chronic Absenteeism, Student Engagement, and Social Emotional Well-Being.

Out of the 871 responses received, the top six results of the survey were as follows:

  • Social Emotional Learning Activities for all students K-12 (66%)
  • Teacher Professional Development Around Best Instructional Practices to Improve Student Engagement (48%)
  • K-8 Summer Success Academy in Summer of 2022 (44%)
  • Extended School Year in Summer of 2022 (25%)
  • 9-12 Credit Recovery in Summer of 2022 (25 %)
  • Home visits to improve student chronic absenteeism (22%)

At the January work meeting, it was falsely stated that in order for the district to be eligible for these ESSER funds, the district MUST show that it has adopted policies for the following:

Universal Masking

Physical Distancing

Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette

Cleaning and Maintaining Facilities

Contact Tracing

Isolation with Quarantine

Diagnostic and Screening Test

Efforts to provide COVID Vaccinations to School Communities

Appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies

Coordination with state and local health officials

This statement is false and was taken out of context to fit a false narrative, so let me put it in the correct context.

Upon filling out the ARP ESSER Health and Safety Plan Template in the grant, a question is asked on how the district will maintain the health and safety of students, educators and other staff, and the EXTENT to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policy on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC.  It then lists the following items:

Universal Masking

Physical Distancing

Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette

Cleaning and Maintaining Facilities

Contact Tracing

Isolation with Quarantine

Diagnostic and Screening Test

Efforts to provide COVID Vaccinations to School Communities

Appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies

Coordination with state and local health officials

The district did not adopt any new policies related to these items, but listed ways in which it will work to maintain the health and safety of students, educators and other staff, and the board adopted a health and safety plan which contains procedures related to that commitment.  Every single time the district changes the health and safety plan, it is uploaded to the ESSER grant application, including the previous health and safety plan where masking was optional.

Nowhere in the grant eligibility requirements does it state anything about losing money if we do not mandate masking. 

There were two other statements made that I would also like to address.

First, a false statement was made that the district made money from the vaccine clinic and that it is stated in ESSER that a district makes money off of providing opportunities for the community to be vaccinated.  This is completely false.  As I said previously, the grant asks the extent to which the district has adopted policies on efforts to provide COVID vaccinations to school communities.  The district did not create or adopt a policy related to this.  Nowhere does it require a district to provide vaccinations to the school community, nor does it ever connect ESSER money or any other funding to holding vaccine clinics.  The clinics were held to provide a service to our community members in terms of access to the vaccine if they chose to be vaccinated.  That is all it was:  a school district providing access to its community members as a service to the community.

Finally, a statement was made that the teacher’s union gave a directive to our school district of “Comply or No Money” related to masking.  This statement is completely false and when I asked for evidence of it being true, evidence could not be provided.

In closing, I would like to state that quarterly financial statements related to new federal funds received are provided at board meetings several times per year.  Federal programs, Titles I, II, III, and IV are presented at K-6 PTO meetings to inform families of how title funds are used for that year and to get parent input for the coming year.  In addition, a budget town hall meeting is held yearly where the ESSER funds and federal funding are part of the presentation.  I encourage those who have questions or concerns about any federal funds the district receives to attend those meetings to remain informed of the facts.

Dr. Lisa Hess

Ashley Shannon
By Ashley Shannon January 25, 2022 14:44