Rich Askey

Rich Askey

As COVID-19 cases across Pennsylvania continue to soar, the head of the state’s teachers union is asking school districts in counties with substantial spread to return to remote learning full time.

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey is encouraging school districts to follow the state’s guidelines for education, which calls for fully remote learning in any county that is experiencing a substantial level of community spread – about 100 or more cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.

Currently, 38 counties fit that guideline.

Washington, Greene and Fayette counties are experiencing moderate transmission.

Since the start of the school year, several school districts in the two counties have closed school buildings due to COVID-19 cases.

Burgettstown Area School District, which had closed after positive COVID-19 cases were reported in its buildings, announced on Friday that the elementary school and the middle school/high school will remain closed until Nov. 24.

Superintendent Dr. James Walsh said additional positive cases had been verified among students and families. Additionally, staff members are in quarantine as a result of exposure to a positive case.

In-person instruction is set to resume on Dec. 1.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted our school and our families. In that, our primary concern is always with the health and well-being of our students and staff,” said Walsh.

For a stretch of days in recent weeks, Avella Elementary Center was closed after students and coaches tested positive for COVID-19, additional students were presumed positive, and several elementary staff members were quarantined because of possible exposure to a positive case.

Each school district is responsible for developing a plan to respond to COVID-19 cases at schools, based on guidelines provided by the state Departments of Health and Education.

According to those guidelines, districts in counties with substantial community spread should operate with a full remote learning model.

“The state Departments of Health and Education developed these guidelines based on good science and what the infection rates are in a school’s community,” Askey said. “We must follow these guidelines to the letter. It’s the best way for us to slow the spread of this virus and keep our students, staff, and their families safe.”

At the beginning of the school year, only one county had a substantial level of community spread. By the end of October, that number rose to 26 counties. For the week ending Nov. 6, 38 counties had reached the designation.

Askey commended school districts who are following the guidelines for the temporary transition to remote learning and “placing a high priority on the health and safety of students, staff, and their families.”

But not all districts with substantial community spread for at least two weeks or more are following the guidelines.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for any school district to disregard the advice of medical professionals and scientists during a pandemic and put the safety of students, staff, and their families at risk,” he said.

He said that temporarily pausing in-person instruction enables students to remain on track academically without any risk to their health.

“As educators and support professionals, every PSEA member wants to be at school with their students, providing them with the best possible education. Our concern is that in-person instruction in communities with a substantial spread of the virus will put the health and safety of everyone in those school communities at risk. That is why it is so critically important for every district to follow the state guidelines,” said Askey.

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