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SCASD to Remain in Remote Learning for Sept. 21-25

by on September 18, 2020 4:18 PM

State College Area public schools will remain closed to in-person learning for at least another week.

Superintendent Bob O'Donnell informed families on Friday that the district will continue with remote learning for Sept. 21-25 and COVID-19 cases in Centre County and within the SCASD zip code areas continue to climb. Most new cases have coincided with Penn State student testing, but O'Donnell said positive cases among school district students and employees have raised concerns about community spread.

"This week, we became aware of four SCASD students and two employees confirmed to have tested positive, which gives us cause for concern that the virus could be spreading beyond the Penn State student population," O'Donnell wrote. "In all cases, we completed contact tracing with our nurses in conjunction with the DOH protocols."

In the past week, Centre County has added 568 new COVID-19 cases, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data and since Sept. 1, it has added 1,139 new COVID-19 cases, nearly two and half times its total for the months of March through August combined (486). The vast majority of new cases have been in the State College and University Park zip codes.

In an update on Friday, Penn State President Eric Barron said the university sees no need to move to fully remote learning at this time. Penn State has reported 973 student positives resulting from tests completed over the past two weeks.

For the second consecutive week, Centre County has, by far, the highest incidence rate in the state at 322.5 per 100,000 people for the week of Sept. 11-17, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health's early warning monitoring dashboard. The county also has the highest positivity rate for the past week at 12.1%.

O'Donnell said district administrators are seeking data from the health department that might assist in developing a path back to in-school learning. 

"We have asked the DOH to release data that we believe will help us to better understand the status of our community’s health, including beyond the college-age population," O'Donnell wrote. "Specifically, we’re seeking age-related data within zip codes. If given this information, we’ll be able to paint a more complete picture of the presence of the virus in the community. This could be key in deciding whether to return to schools or stay in remote instruction."

He added that administrators and health and safety members have been meeting regularly with Penn State and DOH staff leading up to a special meeting on Friday, during which the they stressed the importance of age-related data and talked to representatives from DOH, the Department of Health and Gov. Tom Wolf's office about the district's specific needs.

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.

"Our goal continues to be returning to in-person learning as quickly as possible as long as we determine it’s safe," O'Donnell wrote. "In the meantime, we’ll continue to notify you on a weekly basis. There is no doubt that being fully remote is difficult for many of our students and families, and I am hearing your frustrations. Please know, we greatly appreciate your patience as we struggle through this pandemic."

This week the district opened instructional support centers for students who receive special education services to be in-person with teachers and paraprofessionals on a daily basis.

The decision to remain in remote learning means that State College's fall contact sports — field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball — will have to wait at least another week before they can participate in interscholastic competitions.

On Thursday night, the school board approved a fall athletics health and safety plan that allows for all teams to take part in competitions when the school has in-person learning in session.

When district-wide remote learning is in place, only non-contact sports — cross country, golf and tennis — can participate in competitions. Contact sports cannot, but will be permitted to continue practicing and take part in intrasquad scrimmages "to prepare athletes for a safe return to competitive play," according to a memo from district administrators to the board.

Because of the Mid Penn Conference's delayed start, next Friday, Sept. 25, would have been the first date State High contact sport teams would have been able to play games.



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