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Serra Suspends In-Person Classes
After Two COVID-19 Cases

Hempfield, Plum schools also report new cases

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
September 11, 2020
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Serra Catholic High School moved all students to online learning Friday and suspended sports activities through the weekend after two students tested positive for COVID-19.

An announcement from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said the move was made “out of an abundance of caution” and that neither student was experiencing symptoms of the disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The school in Haler Heights is expected to remain closed through Monday, the diocese said.

The announcement came as state officials reported more than a thousand new cases of coronavirus across Pennsylvania. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said many of the new cases are among college students who have returned to campuses.

“Where we have seen the biggest increases are in colleges and universities,” Levine said at a press conference Friday morning. “We have seen significant increases in terms of the 19-to-24 age group.”

According to state health officials, 19-to-24-year-olds now represent 12 percent of the state’s nearly 143,000 cases. People ages 24 to 49 represent the largest group, state officials said.

Serra students returned to classrooms Sept. 1. The school has approximately 300 students in grades nine through 12.

Timothy Chirdon, Serra principal, said in a prepared statement that the high school has made “extraordinary efforts” to screen each person entering the building, maintain social-distancing, monitor mask-wearing and clean and disinfect surfaces regularly.

“This virus poses extreme difficulties,” he said. “Fortunately, the school has in place a solid virtual-learning environment where our curriculum can be fully implemented, even in times when we have to be closed to ensure the safety of everyone in our school.”

Serra moved completely to online learning in mid-March when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all schools serving kindergarten through grade 12 to suspend in-person classes.

The school’s COVID-19 reopening plan, available online (), calls for all student desks to be spaced four to six feet apart and cleaned daily, recommends that teachers wear clear face shields instead of masks, staggers student lunch periods and uses the school cafeteria for additional seating, and eliminates physical education classes for the year.

The school also has canceled all large, in-person assemblies and field trips.

“This is a challenging time for all involved,” said Chirdon, but added that Serra is “exceeding” the practices recommended by county, state and federal health agencies.

“It remains our goal to have the school in full operation as soon as it is completely safe to do so,” he said.

Both students who tested positive have followed health protocols and have been in quarantine, the diocese said.

In addition, all students who came in close contact with them are being notified and required to quarantine.

Parents and families of students will be updated through normal school communication channels, the diocese said.

Michelle Peduto, director of Catholic Schools for the diocese, said she was “grateful” and “very proud” of Pittsburgh-area parochial schools for the “tremendous energy they have put forth” to open their doors to in-person instruction this fall.

“With the support of our strong Catholic school communities, we will continue to do our very best to keep our students healthy, safe and learning,” Peduto said in a statement.

On Thursday, the Plum Borough School District announced that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in quarantine. The district went back to school on Sept. 2.

According to published reports, the infected employee has not been at work since Sept. 3 and tested positive the following day.

Also on Thursday, Hempfield Area High School, near Greensburg, reported that a student there had tested positive and was in quarantine, and that “a few” students who were in close contact also were quarantining.

Six students and a part-time employee in Elizabeth Forward School District tested positive for COVID-19 in late August, according to published reports.

Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published September 11, 2020.

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