Outbreak spreads; Mercer going online

Allied News fileMercer Middle/High School is converting to remote instruction through the Thanksgiving break, and the school district is suspending all extracurricular activities, including sports.

MERCER — After what school administrators characterized as “multiple additional positive” cases of COVID-19, Mercer Area School District is moving to remote instruction at Mercer Middle/High School through the Thanksgiving break.

The district also is suspending all extracurricular activities, including sports, which forced the school’s District 10 Class 1A champion soccer team to forfeit its PIAA playoff game scheduled for today against Belleville Mennonite High School.

District Superintendent Dr. Ronald Rowe informed the community Monday of the suspension of in-person instruction at Mercer Middle/High School. Students at the elementary school will continue to attend classes in person.

Last week, Rowe said three district employees had tested positive for the virus, but as of Friday, Mercer Area planned to continue in-person at all of its buildings.

Those were are the district’s first cases of the virus since in-person classes started Aug. 25, and no students had tested positive as of Friday, Rowe said.

In his letter Monday, Rowe said that there were additional cases reported.

“Given the number of positive cases in a short time frame, Mercer Middle/High School will be extending remote learning instructional days through the Thanksgiving break,” he said.

The suspension of in-person instruction will run at least until Dec. 1.

The district has been providing updates on its website and Facebook page and sending out email and text alerts through its automated notification system. In a letter dated Nov. 4, the district informed parents that a staff member at the middle/high school tested positive. The staff member, who had most recently been in the building on Oct. 29, was asymptomatic at that time and started to show symptoms over the Halloween weekend.

In two other notices, released Nov. 1 and 2, the district informed residents that two elementary school employees had tested positive. They had most recently been in the elementary school on Oct. 28 and 30.

The district is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health on contact tracing to help determine if anyone else might have been exposed to the virus, he said.

A school administrator or Department of Health representative will contact anyone considered to be at risk for exposure.

“Our students and staff are doing an excellent job,” Rowe said of social distancing measures.

A small percentage of Mercer Area students had been in classes through the district’s cyber program because the students or their families have been compromised by the virus.

“It would not be easily done, but it could be done,” Rowe said.

In the spring, all 500 Pennsylvania districts had to employ remote learning because the state ordered the closure of all schools. At that time, Rowe said district officials discovered that about 20 percent of Mercer Area students do not have reliable access to technology needed for remote learning.

The district provided those students with paper copies of lesson plans and ordered about 750 laptops in June. Mercer officials are still waiting on delivery of the devices.

“The pandemic has slowed that down,” he said.

The Mercer Area School District has about 1,150 students who live in the borough of Mercer and the rural townships of Coolspring, East Lackawannock, Findley and Jefferson.

Rowe expressed gratitude for the community’s support.

“We’ve received nothing but good feedback from our parents,” he said, and said any residents can contact the district administration offices.

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