All the public school districts in Mercer County have begun classes, and all schools are offering in-person instruction in spite of rising COVID-19 cases.
After the first week of classes, some schools have been affected by the pandemic, and are responding to the order, effective Tuesday, by Gov. Tom Wolf that all students, regardless of vaccination status, are to wear masks throughout the day while indoors.
In Grove City Area School District, one high school student and one high school staff member tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to the district’s COVID-19 Dashboard on www.grovecity.k12.pa.us
The dashboard data is updated weekly and shows that 41 students and employees are being quarantined after students returned to classes Monday.
But that doesn’t mean they were exposed to the virus at the school, Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said Friday while going through hundreds of emails from parents with questions and concerns related to COVID-19 and face masks.
Some students did not attend class on the first day, Aug. 30, because they had already started their 10-day quarantine, he said.
The face mask mandate came from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and that is followed by further direction for school districts from PDE.
Finch understands that some parents are anxious about the face mask mandate, and he reminds the community that superintendents have to abide by state laws, and that school board members are subject to individual penalties for offenses like “willful neglect of duties” if they flout the state masking order.
“We’re gonna work really hard to be responsible,” he said, adding that they don’t want the kids to get caught in the middle.
The school board has a work session set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, that was scheduled to be held in-person.
However, Finch has noticed virus numbers in Mercer County going up, so the board may have to consider going back to remote meetings.
The work session agenda will be posted on the district’s website along with connection information for those who wish to attend remotely.
The superintendent of Sharpsville Area School District said the first week of school went well, despite one class needing to quarantine because of COVID-19.
“My goal is to try to keep the district open,” John Vannoy said on Friday.
He confirmed that one class of about 20 students is under quarantine orders for 10 days; he declined to share further details.
Sharpsville opened the school year Aug. 31.
The entire district won’t move to remote learning unless there’s a state mandate that shuts down the schools or there’s a significant impact on the staff, Vannoy said.
He was expecting the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue some new COVID-19 guidance on Friday.
He is hopeful that the school year will head in the right direction and include activities and events that were canceled last school year, like concerts, the fall play and field trips, some of which are scheduled with help from the Parent Teacher Organization.
It’s been nice to see the kids back in the school buildings and enjoying extra-curricular activities, he said, adding that the students made a lot of sacrifices last year.
“It’s refreshing to see teaching and learning taking place,” Vannoy said.
Vannoy noted that the district isn’t having staffing issues, but it is in need of substitute teachers – like other local districts.
“That was a challenge before the pandemic,” he said.
Students in Greenville Area School District returned to classes Aug. 25. Superintendent Brian Tokar said school officials felt better prepared for dealing with pandemic restrictions than they were last year, since the district carried over a series of building procedure – social distancing, temperature screenings, hand-washing and sanitizing, and procedures for student pick-up and drop-off – implemented during the 2020-21 school year.
The mask mandate took effect Tuesday, Sept. 7.Tokar said masks were already mandatory on buses under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation, while some students and staff have worn masks during class since the beginning of the new school year. To prepare for the mask mandate, school officials informed all of the district’s families and will have extra masks available for anyone who may need one.
As of Thursday, Tokar said there had been “a few” virus cases at each of the district’s buildings, with school officials continuing to follow the established state Department of Health guidelines.
However, Tokar said everyone seemed glad to be back, learning in-person and seeing their friends and teachers again.
“All of the changes that have been happening at the start of the year have, understandably, been weighing on everyone but we remain intent on providing and engaging in the best learning environments possible,” Tokar said. “The resilience of our students, staff and families have shown has been great.”
Students started their school year Aug. 24, with the district’s student body returning to full, in-person instruction. Superintendent Ronald Rowe said Mercer schools were able to maintain in-person instruction throughout the 2020-21 school year aside from about a dozen days on remote learning around the holiday season, so this year wasn’t much different for Mercer students.
“It’s been consistent for us, and the students are thrilled to continue without disruption,” Rowe said. “Kids are usually excited when a new school year starts, whether it’s elementary students meeting their teacher or high school students getting back into band and athletics.”
As of Sept. 1, there were no reported COVID cases at Mercer schools. Mask-wearing had been optional, although there were students and staff who opted to wear masks since the start of the school year.
The school district does have the capability and technology available if remote learning became a necessity, but Rowe said school officials planned to maintain in-person instruction as much as possible. That instruction started early for some students, with about 30 elementary students participating in summer learning and three classes of credit recovery for students from seventh through 12th grade, which were funded through ESSR funds.
“We ran a very active summer program here that was especially well-attended,” Rowe said.