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East Allegheny School District was set to begin a new hybrid learning model on Dec. 7, but a surge in Covid-19 cases in Allegheny County and a new order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, put that plan on hold.
At a special meeting held Nov. 23, the board voted to go completely remote until possibly Jan. 19.
The district was operating within a scaffolded learning model that allowed students with individualized education plans to attend classes in-person.
Allegheny is one of the counties in the state now considered an area of substantial transmission. The recent order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends schools in those counties either go completely remote or commit to even stricter in-person mask guidelines.
According to data presented at the meeting, every municipality within the school district is currently listed in the “substantial risk category,” as incidents and positivity rates continue to increase. In addition, for the third week in a row, a death from COVID-19 has been reported within the district.
“We now have multiple factors indicating that we are in a severe threat for transmission,” said Mark Draskovich, director of pupil services and district pandemic coordinator.
The state Department of Health suggests a remote learning plan should remain in place until the county has experienced two consecutive weeks out of the “substantial risk” category, and is designated either in the “moderate” or “low” risk categories.
The district now has a COVID-19 tracker on its website, eawildcats.net, to monitor cases within its schools. Superintendent Alan Johnson says families are not required to submit information if they test positive, so the data may not reflect the true number of cases.
In the past few weeks, the district has received its final order of Chromebooks achieving it’s one-to-one goal. Up to this point, many families were sharing a device among siblings. That is no longer necessary making remote learning more feasible for the majority of students, officials said.
Administrators admit the current situation is not ideal, especially for students who need special accommodations and have been coming to the schools in person. According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been at least 42 individuals (both students and staff) that have recently either tested positive or have been directly exposed to the virus.
Planning to bring more people into the schools now, during a time when many families are traveling due to the holidays, would just put more people at risk and stretch staff to the limit, district officials said.
“This is one of those things where the options we have are limited and we have to look at achieving a balance here,” said Johnson, adding that any losses in instructional time “can be regained and we’ll put extra effort into that.”
Although the district will be operating in remote mode for education, state officials said winter sports and extracurricular activities may proceed as long as guidelines and attendance limits are followed.
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on WMCK Internet Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. Thursdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published December 01, 2020.