The Carlynton School District is one of many local schools temporarily shuttering its doors in response to a spike in Allegheny County COVID-19 cases.
“This pivot in our plan will allow for fewer students to be in the buildings at one time, in essence increasing social distancing and decreasing opportunities for exposure."
— Montour Superintendent Christopher Stone
By Jamie Wiggan
Public schools are scaling back in-person learning in response to a surge of new coronavirus cases across Allegheny County.
A steady rise in diagnoses beginning early November prompted Debra Bogen, county health director, to issue a stay-at-home advisory on Nov. 18.
State and county governing bodies have not issued clear orders for how school districts should proceed, however, area schools are broadly shifting back toward virtual learning models.
Currently, Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Cornell have approved temporary plans to revert to virtual instruction, while Montour’s high school and middle school will scale back to a hybrid model on Dec. 1.
For many in charge, weighing concerns for children’s safety against the negative consequences of their prolonged absence from the traditional learning environment has been a challenge.
“This is an impossible situation — every one of us is here because the kids need to be in this building, but we also need to be cautious,” said Carrie Palermo, a Sto-Rox High School math teacher, during a Nov. 19 business meeting where the board voted to switch back to virtual after the Thanksgiving break.
After beginning the semester all-virtual and transitioning back to an in-person hybrid model at the start of October, for now, Sto-Rox directors are committed to just two weeks of virtual-only instruction starting Dec. 1.
“I think we should wait on the county trends to see what’s happening before we take a second vote,” said Sto-Rox Superintendent Frank Dalmas.
Other districts are similarly hitting the brakes in the short term while they wait to see how the recent spike plays out in the coming days and weeks.
During the week Bogen issued her advisory, Carlynton and Cornell districts both approved temporary returns to virtual-only that began Nov. 23.
Cornell officials say they intend to monitor the trends and if possible resume Dec. 3, while Carlynton has tentative plans to reopen Dec. 10.
The Montour District, which from October onward had been operating in-person plans district-wide, announced it will scale back to hybrid models at the high school and middle school levels beginning Dec. 1.
“This pivot in our plan will allow for fewer students to be in the buildings at one time, in essence increasing social distancing and decreasing opportunities for exposure,” wrote Montour Superintendent Christopher Stone in a district-wide email Nov. 19.
Citing low numbers among elementary school students in Montour and beyond, Stone’s letter said the elementary school would remain “status quo.”