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State College Area Schools Returning to In-Person Classes

by on September 24, 2020 5:00 PM

State College Area School District students will be heading back to classrooms for the first time in three weeks.

Superintendent Bob O'Donnell wrote in a message to families on Thursday afternoon that in-person learning will resume on Monday. Despite the Centre Region's ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases, O'Donnell wrote that an analysis of local data found low incidence rates in the community outside of the college-aged population.

"This shift is unanimously supported by our health and safety team, which includes physicians, epidemiologists and our nurses," O'Donnell wrote. "The team has analyzed the ongoing data for local COVID-19 cases and determined that we’re seeing low incidence rates in the community beyond the college-age population. In light of this information and multiple other factors... we are reopening schools on Monday, Sept. 28."

Since Sept. 1, Centre County has had 1,711 new cases of the virus, three and a half times its total for the months of March through August combined. The vast majority have been in the State College and University Park zip codes, with most corresponding to Penn State student testing. Centre County had the highest incidence and positivity rates in Pennsylvania last week, according to the Department of Health.

O'Donnell noted that testing data provided by community health providers Geisinger and Mount Nittany Health has shown far fewer cases and positivity rates within the school district's zip codes in recent weeks than have resulted from Penn State's student testing. 

Geisinger Health System reported a 3.0 percent positivity rate from its 434 tests of people in the district zip codes since Sept. 1. Out of 13 total positive cases, two were under the age of 18, and eight were 18-24 years of age, according to O'Donnell.

Mount Nittany Health data, which also includes data from Penn State Health, showed a 1.1 percent positivity rate from its 2,598 tests of people in the district zip codes since Aug. 26, SCASD's first day of school. Out of 29 total positive cases, four were under the age of 16, and 18 were 16-25 years of age, O'Donnell wrote.

He added that since Penn State began random screening of employees, there has been one positive out of 700 tests administered.

Only one positive case has been reported among approximately 2,100 students and employees of preschools, daycare centers and private and charter schools within the district area who have continued to attend school on a daily basis since Aug. 26, O'Donnell wrote.

SCASD has had four cases among its students and two among employees, but all have occurred since the district has been in remote learning.

"In the name of safety, we have enhanced our already extensive protocols," O'Donnell wrote. "Beginning Monday, we will randomly screen students and employees with temperature checks. Also, we will begin weekly random COVID-19 testing of employees."

He also urged families to conduct daily screenings and to keep home any child who exhibits symptoms from from the district's screening checklist.

For in-person learning, secondary students go on an alternating day schedule as part of the district's return-to-school plan approved in the summer. Monday will be for A-L. Elementary and middle school students will be on cycle day 5.

Any family that wishes to change their educational model option should contact their school principal. About 73% of district families opted for in-school learning at the start of the fall semester, with the remainder choosing remote and Virtual Academy option.

"While I am pleased students will return to buildings, this was still a difficult decision," O'Donnell wrote. "Keep in mind, for this plan to work, our entire community must stay vigilant and abide by the safety measures in place to contain the spread of the virus. That is, please wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and physically distance as necessary."

While district administration hopes to remain in schools for as long as possible, O'Donnell said decisions on remote or in-person will continue to be made on a week-to-week basis.

During the remote period, special education teachers have continued providing in-person instruction for students at designated support centers.

Returning to in-person learning also allows State College's contact sports teams — field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball — to begin competition next week. The district's fall athletics health and safety plan allowed those teams to continue practicing while schools were in remote mode but could not compete against other teams. Non-contact sports cross country, golf and tennis were permitted to continue competitions.



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