Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: April 3, 1979
Title: Most School Districts in Area Expect to Reopen Wednesday
Author: John Troutman and Bob Gentzel, Staff Writers

With reports that the nuclear crisis at Three Mile Island appears to be easing and the state Department of Education applying pressure, most area school districts will reopen Wednesday.

The education department’s pressure on school districts, which fall outside a five-mile radius of the plant, to reopen is being applied even though most school buses throughout the area are supposed to be on standby in the event an evacuation is ordered.

Kevin Molloy, director of the Dauphin County Office of Emergency Preparedness, said he was “very concerned” about schools reopening and indicated he planned to discuss this matter with state officials.

As of late Monday, the following school districts had announced the resumption of all classes Wednesday morning:

East Shore-Central Dauphin, Derry Twp., Susquehanna Twp. and the Dauphin County Technical School.

West Shore-Camp Hill, Cumberland Valley, East Pennsboro Area, Mechanicsburg Area, Northern York County and Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational-Technical School.

The Capital Area Intermediate Unit also announced the resumption of all special education classes Wednesday, and the Diocese of Harrisburg announced that all Catholic schools in Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lebanon and Lancaster counties would reopen Tuesday.

Benjamin F. Turner, superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, said city schools “probably will be reopened Wednesday” if adequate staff can be summoned.

He said many staff members have left the area with their families and school officials will spend Tuesday “trying to recall staff and getting the word out that we want to reopen Wednesday.”

Classes in the Lower Dauphin School District will resume Wednesday for all students except those living in Conewago and Londonberry townships, municipalities which fall within a five-mile radius of the plant, according to Henry Hoerner, school superintendent.

Hoerner said that Conewago and Londonberry elementary schools will remain closed indefinitely and all secondary students living within the two townships also would be excused from classes until further notice.

OFFICIALS OF the Steelton-Highspire School District said Monday night that no decision had yet been made on reopening, but 24 hours’ notice would be given before schools are reopened.

The Middletown School District will remain closed indefinitely since all district schools fall within a five-mile radius of the plant.

West Shore School District will open all buildings except the Newberry Elementary School Wednesday morning, said Jacob N. Wentzel, superintendent.

He added that “students living within five miles of Three Mile Island will continue to be excused from attendance until further notice.”

Friday, three West Shore Schools-Newberry, Fishing Creek Elementary, and Red Land High School, were evacuated by civil defense officials when schools in five miles were ordered closed. But Wentzel said Fishing Creek and Red Land are just outside the five-mile limit, and were evacuated as a precaution.

In Perry County, civil defense officials said three of the four school districts that were closed Monday in case they were needed as evacuation centers will reopen Tuesday.

David Fry, county civil defense director, said classes would resume Tuesday in West Perry, Newport, and Greenwood school districts.

FRY SAID the Susquenita School District, the only Perry County District to fall within a 20-mile evacuation ring from the nuclear generating plant, will remain closed Tuesday, but will reopen Wednesday if the emergency is lifted.

He said the schools were originally closed by superintendents after being advised by civil defense officials that the county’s fleet of school buses should be on standby to help move up to 9,000 county residents who reside within 20 miles of Three Mile Island.

The announcement of school reopenings were issued in rapid-fire order this morning between Robert Scanlon, secretary of the department of education, the executive directors of three Central Pennsylvania intermediate units, and several district superintendents.

Department spokeswoman Ann Witmer said Scanlon “encouraged the districts to reopen as soon as they possibly can.”

He also told the educators that school districts outside a five-mile radius of Three Mile Island will be required to make up any days they missed because of the nuclear incident “much as they would a snow day,” she said.

Since the governor asked that schools within the five miles be closed and that request still stands, those schools wont be required to make up those lost days, she said. Thus, Middletown wouldn’t be required to make up any days, because all its schools are within five miles.

BUT SHE said no final decision has been made on the status of West Shore and Lower Dauphin, which have some schools within the five-mile radius.

Those districts may be required to make up the days lost by pupils whose schools lie outside the five-mile radius.

West Shore Superintendent Wentzel said that if the department does require some of his schools to make up days, “I have a problem with that. I think we were placed in an unusual hardship.”

If the district is forced to make up days, they will be made up by all schools, including Newberry Elementary, he said.

Several districts which had closed had said they couldn’t operate Monday because of the numbers of teachers and pupils who had left the area, and others had expressed concern about the possibility of having pupils in schools when an evacuation was ordered.

But Scanlon promised the educators he would recommend to Thornburgh that in the event a “planned evacuation” becomes necessary, the announcement be made “outside school hours,” Witmer said.

And word that the governor was pressing to have schools reopened-relayed locally by Capital Area Intermediate Unit Director D. Bruce Conner, who attended the meeting with Scanlon-was read by many school officials as a signal that the greatest danger had passed.

Mechanicsburg Superintendent Charles E. Shields said he decided to reopen based on the governor’s request, coupled with reports that the nuclear reactor was being brought under control and a decision on evacuation was being “postponed.”

Harrisburg’s Turner said he was not upset over the school district having to make up the missed days.