Calling it an “extremely disappointing turn of events,” the State College Area School District announced Friday it will move all of its schools to remote learning next week, an announcement that came the same day Penn State’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 174 more cases in the past week.
In a letter to parents and guardians, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said recent positives mean the district reached the state Department of Health’s “substantial level” of COVID-19 transmission and the recommendation at that point is “full remote learning.”
O’Donnell notes that Centre County has the second highest incidence rate in the state per 100,000 residents in the past seven days.
“Fully remote is certainly not where we want to be, and I can assure you that our goal is to get students back in schools as soon as possible,” O’Donnell said in the message. “Currently, we are working on a return-to-school plan that would include specific guidelines for allowing us to safely resume in-school learning.”
The school board had voted Wednesday to take Friday off, keeping teachers and students home while they reviewed the county and Penn State numbers. That 5-4 vote followed at-times contentious meetings and comments from parents, both those urging the board to keep school buildings open and those wanting the district to go remote.
O’Donnell said the administration will let families know Sept. 11 if the district will be returning the week of Sept. 14.
“Moving forward, our goal is to operate on a week-by-week basis with the decision for the next week made on Fridays,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 cases has increased sharply in Centre County, particularly at Penn State and in the neighboring State College area. The county saw 47 new cases Wednesday, 40 on Thursday and 37 on Friday. The 124 new cases in the past three days account for 20% of all COVID-19 cases reported in the county since the pandemic began.
“By any measure, this is an extremely disappointing turn of events, but our faculty and staff are among the best in the state and they will do their best to provide students with engaging and challenging learning experiences,” O’Donnell said.
The school district created its own dashboard showing case numbers in the district.