Centre County schools submit health & safety plans for new year

Most students in Centre County will head back to classrooms next week to start another school year where the COVID-19 pandemic looms.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, and Pennsylvania’s two statewide teachers unions recently urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, masks remain optional in most Centre County schools.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said his administration will not require masks in schools, though he urged districts to follow federal guidance.

Because of a federal rule, people will need a face mask while on district transportation.

School districts have submitted health and safety plans to the state’s Department of Education, outlining rules and guidelines for how they will operate during the 2021-22 school year. Many of those acknowledge that plans are subject to change. As the school year begins, COVID-19 cases in Centre County continue to rise and the level of transmission is “substantial,” according to the CDC.

Below is an outline of what schools in Centre County plan to do as the school year kicks off, according to the health and safety plans that have been submitted and posted to schools’ websites.

Bald Eagle Area School District

Distance learning option: Students will have three educational options: in-person, cyber or online learning (for verified COVID reasons only).

Masks: Unless masks are required by the state or federal government, students, staff and visitors will not be required to wear them. Anyone who wants to wear a mask may do so, and the health and safety plan notes that the policy is subject to change based on updated state or federal mandates.

Physical distancing: There will be a 3-foot minimum between student desks, and classrooms will be limited to 28 students or fewer.

Other mitigation strategies: The district purchased bi-polar ionization machines that were installed in each classroom, which kill germs, bacteria and viruses. The district is also considering installing similar units in offices across the district.

Bellefonte Area School District

Distance learning option: The district plans for in-person learning full-time with a plan for temporary remote learning as COVID-19 case data indicates. A fully-remote learning option (BeLA) will be available to families.

Masks: Face coverings will be optional for district staff and students, according to BASD’s health and safety plan. Parents should notify their child’s teacher if they want their child to wear a face covering.

Physical distancing: Teachers may continue to use physical distancing and desk shields in classrooms as they deem necessary, the health and safety plan states.

Other mitigation strategies: Hand sanitizer will be provided to classrooms with a suggested schedule for use.

Centre Learning Community

Masks: According to the State College charter school’s health and safety plan, masking requirements will be implemented by the level of community transmission, as defined by the CDC. In the “substantial” or “high” levels, masks will be required inside for all students and teachers.

Physical distancing: Students will maintain at least 3 feet of physical distancing within classrooms. Outdoor space will be used frequently.

Other mitigation strategies: Daily screening questions will be administered to all people entering the facility, classrooms will be sanitized daily and proper hand-washing will be reinforced and sanitizer will be readily available.

Grace Prep High School

Distance learning option: Parents can choose at any time of the year for students to learn virtually with web cams that allow students to join class from home.

Masks: Masking guidelines will be in accordance with those outlined in the state Department of Health communications, according to Grace Prep’s website. There will be mask breaks and students may remove masks for eating and drinking purposes.

Physical distancing: Small class sizes will promote social distancing when possible, and the school is also looking to implement “creative outside meeting tents.”

Other mitigation strategies: Students and staff will have daily temperature checks, and there will be frequent sanitation and weekly deep cleaning.

Nittany Christian School

Distance learning option: The school will transition to online learning when mandated by local or state regulations, when there are multiple active cases at the school or when there are not enough teachers available to provide in-class instruction.

Masks: There will be optional mask wearing unless there are COVID-19 cases in the building, a concerning rise in the community or local/state mandates requiring masks, according to a July 23 update on the school’s website. Adults must wear masks when preparing or handling food.

Other mitigation strategies: There will be daily temperature checks at the door and the continuation of a building sanitation schedule that includes complete disinfection of the building twice a week.

Nittany Valley Charter School

Masks: According to its health and safety plan last revised on July 26, masks will be required for all unvaccinated people while in common areas and when unable to maintain 3 feet of social distancing inside. Parents who are comfortable with their child being unmasked at times when in the classroom may provide a written affirmation, the plan states.

Physical distancing: The small classroom size provides the space needed to social distance, and students will remain in classroom pods throughout the school day when inside.

Other mitigation strategies: Cleaning and sanitizing will occur daily, and the plan outlines that students will be taught proper hand-washing techniques.

Our Lady of Victory Catholic School

Masks: OLV’s 2021-22 health and safety plan had not yet been posted to its website as of Friday, but in an update on Aug. 13, the school posted that all students will be encouraged to come to school with a mask. The plan states masks are to be used during arrival and dismissal, anytime that students are traveling the hallways in groups and going through the lunch line, and when working in small group settings closer than 3 feet and anytime a teacher or staff member is working one on one with a student or with a group of students in a close group setting closer than 3 feet.

Penns Valley Area School District

Distance learning option: If parents do not wish to have students attend for in-person learning, the district has an asynchronous PV Cyber Academy.

Masks: The school board of directors approved the health and safety plan during its July 21 meeting. The plan states masks are not required for anyone, though can be worn if individuals so choose.

Physical distancing: While in classrooms, cafeteria and buses, all students will be seated at the maximum distance feasible according to CDC, PA DOH and PDE guidelines, the plan states.

Other mitigation strategies: All classrooms are equipped with sanitizer or hand-washing facilities.

Philipsburg-Osceola School District

Distance learning option: For those in quarantine, high school classes will be livestreamed and all work will be posted on Google Classroom. For the middle and elementary schools, students will access their work on the Google Classroom.

Masks: Masks are optional but encouraged in school buildings, according to an Aug. 16 update from the district.

Physical distancing: Three-foot social distancing will be in place.

Other mitigation strategies: Temperature checks will be required to enter buildings and disinfection and sanitation procedures will continue.

Saint John Catholic School

Masks: All staff will wear masks when indoors and working with children, according to the Bellefonte parochial school’s website. Students are required to wear masks when Centre County’s transmission rate is “moderate” and above and when social distance is unable to be maintained.

Physical distancing: Classrooms will be arranged with appropriate distance between desks and students will stay with their grade level most of the day.

Other mitigation strategies: Hand sanitizer available in high-traffic areas; water fountains will not be used; routine cleaning.

Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy

Distance learning option: Students who are absent for any reason will have access to class assignments through Google classroom.

Masks: Saint Joseph’s students started class on Monday, and the school’s health and safety plan states face coverings will be optional, but encouraged, for all students and school personnel. An Aug. 19 update on its website states all students must have a face mask with them each day.

Physical distancing: Students and staff will be encouraged to maximize physical distancing to the extent practicable. Large spaces, like gyms and outside spaces, will be used for social distancing.

Other mitigation strategies: Water drinking fountains will continue to be turned off but water filling stations will be available. The school also has fogger devices for sanitation.

State College Area School District

Distance learning option: There are no synchronous remote options this year. The Virtual Academy is an option based on student needs and administrative approval. If a student switches to the Virtual Academy, they will not be able to return to in-person learning until the end of the first semester.

Masks: With increasing COVID-19 cases in Centre County and the county among those with “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission, the district updated its health and safety plan on Aug. 10. Indoors masking is now required for all. There is no masking requirement while outdoors.

Physical distancing: Indoors, there will be a 3-6 foot distance requirement. There is no physical distance requirement outdoors.

Other mitigation strategies: Routine cleaning will be performed nightly. In occupied areas of buildings, SCASD will maximize fresh air intake through HVAC systems.

Young Scholars of Central PA

Remote learning: If the school needs to be closed due to COVID, remote instruction will be provided to students.

Masks: Masks are required for all students and staff, Principal Levent Kaya told the Centre Daily Times.

Physical distancing: The health and safety plan states the facility is modified to meet the 3-feet recommendation. If guidelines change to be further apart, Young Scholars will revert back to the setup used during the 2020-21 school year.

Other mitigation strategies: Each classroom has an air purifier. A disinfectant fogger will be used during cleaning. Cleaning stations will be set up in the hallways.

Halie Kines reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Penns Valley and graduated from Penn State.

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