Keystone School District will remain in remote learning mode until at least Jan. 4.
“I do not see an avenue to reopen (for in-class instruction) before the new year,” Superintendent Shawn Algoe told school board members during their meeting this week. “There’s just no conceivable way.”
At the heart of the decision is Clarion County’s continuing status as having a “substantial” COVID-19 infection rate, and recommendations” from the state Department of Education and state Department of Health.
Both DOH and DOE recently required all public school districts to sign an “attestation letter” to confirm if a district remains open for in-class instruction, it will follow all state and federal recommendations.
The recommendations include face masks and social distancing.
The agencies also allowed school districts to consider their district COVID-19 test positivity rates and incidents per 100,000 residents in making the in-class or remote instruction decision.
However, Algoe pointed out, Keystone’s per 100,000 infection rates – as of Monday – was 691.9 and its COVID-19 test positivity – by ZIP codes – was 67.8%. Both of those numbers exceed guidelines for in-class instruction.
Algoe said he believes the agencies’ requirements that the district superintendent and school board president sign the “attestation” form was an attempt to force all school district’s into remote learning status.
“I’m pretty sure that was their intent,” he said.
The superintendent said it can’t be guaranteed that students and staff could meet all of the new requirements for in-class instruction.
“Therefore, we will continue with (remote instruction) through Dec. 22 and hopefully reopen for in-class instruction on Jan. 4,” Algoe said. “This really isn’t a choice – this is something we have to do.”
Algoe questions some of the infection and per 100,000 rates.
“We have faculty and staff and students in quarantine, and I have doubts about the numbers,” he said. “We know we have some people who were told not to be tested despite the fact they had symptoms.”
Algoe had informed board members during Monday’s meeting the district is allowing student athletes (basketball and wrestling) to participate in modified practices.
However, on Thursday, the state temporarily halted school sports and other extracurricular activities. The edict will will take effect Saturday and remain in effect until Jan. 4.
On Monday, Algoe said the PIAA and KSAC had hoped to start basketball and wrestling competitions in January or February. However, to participate in competition, athletes must participate in at least 15 practices before competitions begin.
In order to meet that practice threshold, most local districts, including Keystone, had planned to allow student athletes to begin practices Monday. But that was before the state’s announcement.