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SCASD Continuing with Fully Remote Learning Next Week

by on September 11, 2020 5:30 PM

State College Area School District will continue with fully remote learning for at least another week, Superintendent Bob O'Donnell informed families on Friday afternoon.

The school board on Thursday approved changes to the district's health and safety plan to give administrators more flexibility for deciding between remote and in-person learning, with the aim of have kids in schools as long as it is safe to do so. O'Donnell said on Friday the decision to continue with district-wide remote learning came after evaluating local COVID-19 data.

"After using all of our available data to assess local COVID-19 case numbers and meeting with our health and safety team members, we have concluded that continuing with remote learning next week is our safest option," O'Donnell wrote.

The district's health and safety team — which includes administrators, nurses, pediatricians and an epidemiologist — unanimously supported this decision, according to O'Donnell. 

"This morning, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, upon reviewing our present situation, strongly recommended that we should remain in remote learning," O'Donnell wrote.

Centre County added 137 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 128 within SCASD zip codes. Between Sept. 4-10, the county had — by far — the highest COVID-19 incidence rate in the state over the last seven days with 255.5 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Department of Health's early warning monitoring dashboard.. The next closest was Columbia County at 82.5. Centre County's positivity rate over that period was 9.2%, fourth highest in the state and an increase of 3.9% from the previous seven days.

The vast majority of new cases in the county have been in the State College and University Park zip codes and most have been connected to testing of Penn State students. The university reported 289 positives from completed tests performed between Sept. 4-10, with another 1,483 tests still awaiting results. Penn State also reported this week 188 positives from previously pending tests performed last week.

Penn State President Eric Barron said on Friday the university does not currently plan to move to fully remote classes.

SCASD's new guidelines for deciding on remote or in-school take a "multi-faceted approach," looking at multiple data points, mostly without strict parameters, that can be evaluated in context. They include incidence rate both with and without University Park cases, positivity rate, cases reported by the three major community health providers, Mount Nittany Medical Center capacity, positives among Penn State employees, and cases within the school district community.

There have been no known cases to date among SCASD students, faculty and staff.

The district's previous guidelines set specific, conservative parameters for total cases over a seven-day period in the county and in the district's zip codes. Those thresholds were exceeded last week and on Sept. 4, when Centre County entered DOH's "substantial" level of community transmission, SCASD decided to go remote for this week.

That will now continue for the week of Sept. 14-18.

Elementary and secondary students will follow the normal remote learning schedule next week. Wednesday will be an asynchronous learning day for students, allowing teachers to plan, take part in professional development and communicate with parents and guardians as needed.

Instructional support centers for students who receive special education services will begin operating on Wednesday, according to O'Donnell. Special education representatives will contact eligible families directly with details.

"We are still exploring ways to expand our centers to accommodate other situations," O'Donnell wrote. 

Distribution of free weekly meals for any child from the district under 18 will take place on Wednesdays during periods of fully remote learning. The Food Services Department will email families with details.

O'Donnell said the district will continue to evaluate COVID-19 on a daily basis and decisions on in-school or fully remote learning will be made at the end of each week.

"No doubt, this is a disappointing outcome for many of us, but while we’re in remote, meaningful instruction is occurring," he wrote. "Our faculty and staff will keep doing their best to engage your children with care and dedication. Thank you for your understanding, cooperation and support for your children during this challenging time for everyone."

At the start of the school year on Aug. 26, about 73% of district families selected in-person learning, with the remainder choosing remote and Virtual Academy options.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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