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Some Parents Frustrated By COVID Response

District understands families’ anxiety, will adjust schedule in January if necessary

By Siana Emery
The Tube City Almanac
December 21, 2020
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Correction: This story was corrected after publication. See editor’s note.

As students gear up for winter break, some McKeesport Area parents are left wondering in what form school will resume in January.

While cases of COVID-19 continue to be confirmed in students and faculty across the district, in-person classes are expected to resume on Jan. 4.

All classes are virtual this week.

As of Dec. 22, McKeesport Area School District has had 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and faculty since the school year began on Sept. 2. Most of those cases have been reported since November.

According to the live tracker on the district’s website, the majority of these cases have been within the high school, though cases have been confirmed at all schools.

During the fall term, the district has been operating under a hybrid model. Students had the option to attend school in-person or exclusively online.

“We have about 900 students who have opted into online learning exclusively through our MASD Online school,” said Kristen D. James, district spokeswoman. “We are in-person, five days a week, on a daily early release schedule.  Students who attend in-person leave (two hours early) each day.”

One reason for the daily early release is to conduct a deep cleaning of each school building, James said. Schools will continue to be cleaned over the holiday break.

According to the district, although there has been a slight rise in COVID-19 cases, none of McKeesport Area’s six school buildings have met the thresholds set by the state Department of Education that would require any of the buildings to close their doors.

A statement posted on the district’s website says that administrators “recognize the anxiety and frustration that families are experiencing.”

Some parents have expressed concerns over the district’s handling of COVID-19 cases this term.

Steven Singer, a parent of a McKeesport Area student and a teacher in the Steel Valley School District, has written several articles criticizing McKeesport’s hybrid approach.

“Parents cannot wait until cases are confirmed before making decisions about whether to send their children to school buildings or not,” Singer said in a post on his blog, Gadfly on the Wall, last month. “The mere fact that additional cases are suspected is enough for some parents to exercise caution.”

Singer, who has voiced his concerns to the McKeesport Area school board, wrote in November that the Allegheny County Health Department’s stay-at-home advisory recommends against all non-essential travel.

“Many districts are closing through the end of the year or until the end of January — at least,” he said.

Greg Kristen, a parent of an elementary school student in McKeesport Area, echoed Singer’s sentiment.

“My concern is that it’s not going to get any better — it’s going to get worse,” Kristen said. “They shouldn’t be back in school until the end of March, at least.”

Davis said that although the district currently anticipates students returning for in-person instruction in January, the schedule may be modified depending on the course of the pandemic in the coming weeks.

The district has established a COVID-19 dashboard on its website where parents and students can find a live case tracker, health and safety resources, and any pertinent announcements regarding the pandemic.

Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record.

Correction: The name of Kristen D. James, district spokeswoman, was incorrect in this story. We apologize for the error. —Jason Togyer

Originally published December 21, 2020.

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