Jefferson County, PA – Brockway Area School District and Punxsutawney Area School District have their first day of the new year for students today, though it certainly looks a little different than last year.

Since these schools are in Jefferson County and still meet the guidelines to be open five days a week, students will be able to have five days of in-person learning for the time being.

Every school has to have a plan of what to do if the county moves into the yellow phase of school plans, including a hybrid learning model that would mix in-person learning with virtual classes. Students and their families are still able to choose those options now, even though in-person classes are available.

The decision of how to handle the new school year is a tough decision, and it’s up to every family to decide what’s best for their own situation. As now most of our students are back in class, in one form or another, let’s be patient with each other as we all find a new balance of how to handle things. As we’ve seen many times in 2020, the situation and guidelines can change quickly, so schools are encouraging families to stay flexible but optimistic.

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DuBois, PA – Monday was the first day of school for students at the DuBois Area School District, DuBois Central Catholic School, and DuBois Christian School! Brockway and Punxsutawney students head back on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Because of new recommendations and guidelines from the Department of Health and Department of Education, many schools in our area that originally thought they would be able to offer five days a week of in-person learning for students have now had to make some adjustments.

DuBois Area School District has split its students into two “teams” based on the first letter of their last names.

For DuBois, the teams are Team Beaver and Team DuBois. Brockway will also use this model if they move into the more strict yellow phase, but they have not yet.

This effectively splits the school population in half, and one team will attend school in person one day while the other team stays home for online instruction. The teams will alternate days at school.

DuBois Central Catholic School, like the DuBois public school, will also start this Monday.

Students at all schools still have the option to do their instruction all online.

The situation for each school system has changed numerous times, so please contact your school directly if you have questions. Be aware that some previous reports and previous paperwork you might have received months ago are likely no longer accurate.

Be patient as our school administrators, teachers, and staff navigate this new school year. There will undoubtedly be some rough waters along the way, but with your support, the school year can provide some sense of normalcy to kids, whether they are learning in the classroom or at home.

Start dates:

DuBois Area School District: Monday, August 24

DuBois Central Catholic: Monday, August 24

DuBois Christian School: Monday, August 24

Brockway Area School District: Thursday, August 27

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Connect FM presents

Contact with Joe Taylor

Contact’s Back to School 2020 series continues with Wendy Benton, Superintendent of the DuBois Area School District. Listen as she discusses students going back to school this fall during the COVID-19 crisis.

This interview was recorded before the mask mandate from Gov. Tom Wolf.  Listen HERE for Wendy’s response to the new mandate.

For the 2020 DASD Bus Route click here.

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Connect FM presents

Contact with Joe Taylor

Contact’s “Back to School 2020” series continues with Superintendent of Brockway Area School District, Jeff Vizza, and select others from the school district. Listen as they discuss students going back to school this fall during the COVID-19 crisis.

*Note: This interview was recorded 8/12/20, before Gov. Tom Wolf’s mask mandate for schools*

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Connect FM presents

Contact with Joe Taylor

Contact’s Back to School 2020 series kicks off with Gretchen Caruso from DCC. Listen as she discusses students going back to school this fall during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

***UPDATE 8/12/20***

 With the recent recommendations from the Department of Health and Department of Education, Gretchen Caruso has released a video statement regarding the upcoming fall school year. Hear her statement here. 

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Harrisburg, PA – In contrast to what some schools had planned, the PA Department of Health and Department of Education now say that students are required to wear face coverings at all times while at school.

That means that, even if students are placed at desks 6 or more feet away inside a classroom, they would still be required to wear a mask.

The Department of Education says this applies to all kids age 2 or older in public, private, charter, career and tech, PA Pre-K Counts, headstart, and other schools.

They do say there are specific times when students would be allowed to remove face covering, such as when they’re eating or drinking spaced at least 6 feet apart, when wearing a mask would be unsafe, or during certain “face-covering breaks” lasting no more than 10 minutes while students are spaced at least 6 feet apart.

The original guidelines had included other exceptions, such as students being able to remove masks when seated at desks 6 feet apart or when properly spaced out during activities like recess. That is no longer the case.

On July 9 when we originally reported the student masks requirements, these were the exceptions listed:

Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart;
Seated at desks or assigned work spaces at least 6 feet apart; or
Engaged in any activity at least 6 feet apart (e.g. face covering breaks, recess, etc.)

The new rules mean the schools must require students to wear a mask, even if they are seated at desks 6 or more feet apart from each other.

This new adjustment to the order is a slight change from before, as many schools had already made plans to meet the original requirements by simply spacing out students far enough that they wouldn’t have to wear their masks all the time. Again, this is no longer the case.

As the start of the new school year draws closer, about a week away, it’s yet another time when school districts will have to quickly rethink their policies.

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The section of the PA Department of Health FAQs about students and mask wearing:

Does the Order of the Secretary of the PA Department of Health Requiring Universal Face Coverings apply to children and adults while in schools?

Yes, this order applies to all students, staff and visitors age two and older while in school entities, including public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), intermediate units (IUs); educational programming for students in non-educational placements such as residential settings (boarding schools), residential facilities, detention centers, and hospital settings; PA Pre-K Counts, Head Start Programs and Preschool Early Intervention programs; and Private Academic Nursery Schools and locally funded prekindergarten activities.

The Order was effective July 1, 2020 and will remain in effect until the Secretary of Health determines the public health risk is sufficiently reduced so that face coverings are no longer necessary as a widely utilized public health tool.

For the safety of students, staff and families and to avoid community spread of COVID-19, students and staff are considered to be members of the public who are congregating in indoor locations. As such, they are required to adhere to this Order.

The order is effective immediately and applies to all children aged two and older.

Under what circumstances are students permitted to remove their face coverings (e.g. masks and face shields)?

Schools may allow students to remove face coverings when students are:

  • Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task; or
  • At least 6 feet apart during “face-covering breaks” to last no longer than 10 minutes.

Do students with disabilities need to wear face coverings?

Children two years and older are required to wear a face covering unless they have a medical or mental health condition or disability, documented in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA, that precludes the wearing of a face covering in school. Accommodations for such students should be made in partnership with the student’s health care provider, school nurse, and IEP/504 team.

When does my child have to wear a mask? 

Children 2 years old and older are required to wear a face covering as described in the Order, unless they fit one of the exceptions included in Section 3 of the Order.

If a child is outdoors and able to consistently maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from individuals who are not a part of their household, they do not need to wear a mask.

If a parent, guardian, or responsible person has been unable to place a face covering safely on the child’s face, they should not do so.

If a child 2 years old or older is unable to remove a face covering without assistance, the child is not required to wear one.

The Department recognizes that getting younger children to be comfortable wearing face coverings and to keep them on may create some difficulties. Under these circumstances, parents, guardians, licensed child care providers in community-based and school settings or responsible persons may consider prioritizing the wearing of face coverings to times when it is difficult for the child to maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from others who are not a part of their household  (e.g., during carpool drop off or pick up, or when standing in line at school).  Ensuring proper face covering size and fit and providing children with frequent reminders and education on the importance and proper wearing of cloth face coverings may help address these issues.

Do staff and children in child care facilities need to wear face coverings?

All staff must wear face coverings during child care operations.

The Department recognizes that getting younger children to be comfortable wearing face coverings and to keep them on may create some difficulties. Under these circumstances, parents, guardians, licensed child care providers in community-based and school settings or responsible persons may consider prioritizing the wearing of face coverings to times when it is difficult for the child to maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from others who are not a part of their household  (e.g., during carpool drop off or pick up, or when standing in line at school).  Ensuring proper face covering size and fit and providing children with frequent reminders and education on the importance and proper wearing of cloth face coverings may help address these issues.

Any child who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical condition, including those with respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition, or disability, and children who would be unable to remove a face covering without assistance, are not required to wear face coverings. Individuals who are communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired or who has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication, also are not required to wear a mask. Other face coverings, such as plastic face shields, may also accommodate such disabilities.

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DuBois, PA – Many schools are having to rethink what kind of instruction they can offer for the start of the school year after new recommendations from the Department of Education and the Department of Health.

With new data about which counties were experiencing the largest increase in the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in comparison to the population of the area, each county was put into either a low, moderate, or severe risk category.

For some schools, like reportedly with the DuBois Area School District, this could mean a bigger focus on virtual or distance learning. For students who have already decided to use those options for this upcoming school year, not much will change.

For those who were hoping to spend five days a week in a physical classroom, however, there will likely be some adjustments. For example, this could be something such as having students come into the building on alternating days.

Because guidelines and recommendations are changing quickly, no official statement has been made yet about any changes to the reopening plan, and families should be prepared to be as flexible as possible, no matter what school their student attends.

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Harrisburg, PA – A new data dashboard is available to help schools learn how their area of Pennsylvania is doing with the COVID-19 crisis and determine how to safely reopen.

The Pennsylvania departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) provided school administrators and governing bodies with recommendations as to which instructional models they should consider implementing based on the changing levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in their counties. These recommendations are intended to help schools safely provide instruction to students as they progress through the 2020-21 academic year.

The direct link to the dashboard: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Monitoring-Dashboard.aspx

The recommendations rely on two standard public health metrics used by public health experts: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. The metrics are available for every county in Pennsylvania on the DOH COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard.

“We remain committed to helping our school leaders make thoughtful decisions about the 2020-21 school year, while helping Pennsylvania stem the tide of COVID-19 infections in our communities,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “From the beginning of this pandemic, we have said that decisions would be based on science and on data. These recommendations use that data to help schools make local decisions.”

Based on this public health data and threshold measurements from the federal Coronavirus Task Force, the planning tool designates each county as having a low, medium or substantial risk of community transmission. In turn, those designations align to recommended instructional models, including fully in-person, fully remote, or blended/hybrid models.

The metrics and designations will help school communities make decisions throughout the school year and determine if, and when, they should transition instructional models as conditions related to the pandemic continue to fluctuate. A safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district and county depending on a variety of local factors.

While a county’s corresponding threshold may change week by week, DOH and PDE recommend that schools consider changing instructional models only after observing two consecutive weeks of the same designation. For example, a school offering a blended/hybrid model in a county identified as “moderate” might consider transitioning to a fully in-person model if the county moves to “low” for two consecutive weeks. It is important to note that a significant or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based model more quickly. The Department of Health will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.

The designations are posted on PDE’s website and will be updated weekly.

“Since unveiling initial public health guidance for schools earlier in the summer, both the departments of Education and Health have engaged with superintendents and other education leaders regarding their questions and concerns,” Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew Stem said. “With the continued uncertainty and varying infection rates across the state, school leaders have asked for additional guidance to help them make decisions about reopening schools.

“This tool responds to those requests by aligning public health conditions in counties directly to recommendations for the delivery of instruction.”

These recommendations are not a mandate, but rather, are meant to be an additional tool available to school leaders to inform local efforts. Regardless of the instructional model being implemented, all schools must continue to account for the universal masking order dated July 1.

In June, at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year, PDE issued its first piece of reopening guidance to local education agencies (school districts, charter schools, career and technology centers, and intermediate units) to help school leaders prepare for the return to school. Since that time, PDE has issued additional tools, including commissioned research prepared by Mathematica, school-related public health best practices, and resources for students and staff wellness.

In July, the departments jointly issued guidance to schools, including endorsed best public health practices related to social distancing, face coverings, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting in school settings.

The departments also provided an initial series of frequently asked questions about the recommendations.