School districts have had to continuously adapt to the ever-changing rise and fall of the COVID-19 outbreak, switching between virtual learning, hybrid and in-person classes.
By Jamie Wiggan
Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Cornell all mandated a period of virtual-only days across late November and early December and said they planned to monitor conditions before making commitments beyond then.
With state and county health guidelines ramping up in recent weeks, area school districts are responding to rapidly-evolving circumstances in which they’ve been left to determine their own course.
Following Allegheny County Health Director Debra Bogen’s Nov. 18 stay-at-home advisory, districts took steps to pull back from in-person teaching in the short term to help mitigate virus spread.
Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Cornell all mandated a period of virtual-only days across late November and early December and said they planned to monitor conditions before making commitments beyond then. Montour’s high school and middle school meanwhile scaled back from full in-person teaching to a hybrid schedule, where students split their time between in-classroom tuition and remote-learning from home.
After briefly hitting pause, Cornell is now back to hybrid learning — its default mode for the fall semester — and according to Superintendent Aaron Thomas the situation won’t be revisited until Jan. 26.
“We are going to look at case numbers in January and determine if we are going to extend our half-day rotation schedule longer than the 26th,” he said.
Officials from Sto-Rox and Carlynton both, however, chose to extend their schools’ virtual learning periods until after the holidays.
Sto-Rox directors cast their votes during a board meeting just hours after Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statewide shutdown order on Dec. 10.
Although the order does not speak to school health policies, Sto-Rox officials took it as a sign of deteriorating public safety conditions.
“I think we’re going to have to take it one day at a time,” said President Samantha Levitzki-Wright.
Carlynton’s course has involved more upheaval for educators, students and parents.
There, after a short remote-only recess, students returned to in-person Dec. 7, but before the week was up, officials opted to revert back to remote learning starting Dec. 14.
Superintendent John Kreider said the district will reevaluate on Jan. 8.
While discussing the stakes before the vote for extending virtual learning, teachers at Sto-Rox commended the district’s quick shift toward technology-powered education, but they recognized that it’s having an impact on some students who struggle with technology.
We worry about gaps in our neediest kids getting further behind online,” said Michael Amick, curriculum director.
Another concern for the district is the increase in absences recorded since the virus outbreak, despite staff efforts to reach students and their families, by text, phone, email and even at home.
“Attendance is an issue,” said Superintendent Frank Dalmas. “There are about 40-50 students in the district we haven’t heard from since March.”