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Seneca Valley classes resume uneventfully

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007

The blame game over the teachers' strike has not ended, and there is no contract. But many people breathed a sigh of relief Friday when classes in the Seneca Valley School District started for the first time in nearly five weeks.

"It went well. It did not seem like anything had changed. It was weird getting up so early when it was dark," said Kristie Dash, 15, a 10th-grader at the district's Intermediate High School in Jackson.

Union and district officials said Internet rumors about retribution and student walkouts proved false as about 95 percent of students showed up for the school year's second first day of classes.

"Teachers tried to not talk about the strike in class," said Scott Blackburn, 17, a junior at Seneca Valley High School who called the day uneventful. "The biggest problem students have is that they think they will have just one or two days off for the major holidays."

The school calendar for the rest of this year will be set by the school board Monday at a 7 p.m. meeting.

Teachers were advised to not discuss the strike in class, said Butch Santicola, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union that represents the district's 585 unionized teachers.

Blackburn said the strike was not a big topic among friends yesterday. "Everyone has already had five weeks to talk about it. We have already said everything," he said.

John Giancola, the principal of Cranberry's Rowan Elementary School, stood in front of the school and gave students high-fives as they arrived. Only seven of Rowan's 735 students were absent from school, said district spokeswoman Linda Andreassi. Attendance at all schools was higher than on an average day, she said.

"Everyone is excited about being back in class. Today was business as usual. It was all about education," Andreassi said.

Still, the strike has left scars that are unlikely to heal just because school has started, some parents said.

"A lot of people are stressed and quite angry. This has divided the community," said Rebecca Stellar of Cranberry, whose son, Gabe Stellar, is a senior at Seneca Valley High School.

Teachers and the district have 45 business days to complete state-mandated nonbinding arbitration. Some parents say they expect little progress.

"The arbitration panel's recommendations will be rejected by one or both sides. I wish I did not feel this pessimistic, but I will be very surprised if this is settled this school year," said Ken Dash, the father of Kristie Dash.

Ken Dash said personalities are getting in the way.

"It would take reasonable people on both sides to reach an agreement," he said. "Each side is of the opinion that if you are not with us, you are against us."

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