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Hybrid, remote learning suggested for Lycoming County

With Lycoming County at the moderate level of community transmission as established by new recommendations released this week by the Wolf administration, opening schools in the hybrid or fully remote models of instruction is suggested.

The recommendations were released his week by the departments of health and public education and are only recommendations, it was stressed by Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Department of Health during a media call.

Levine was joined by Pedro Rivera, secretary of education and Matt Stem, deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education on the call.

The recommendations advise school administrators to base reopening on two public health metrics–the incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing.

The incidence rate refers to the number of cases in a county per capita over the last seven days, while the other metric refers to the percentage of diagnostic tests that have been positive in a county. Levine noted that the information for specific counties is available on the DOH Covid-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard.

“These metrics are the national standard. We’re using exactly the same metrics as the White House Coronavirus task force,” she said.

In addition, the new guidance establishes three thresholds for school boards to use in making a decision about schools reopening and offers recommendations for the type of instruction for each threshold, Levine explained.

The three thresholds are low, moderate and substantial levels of community transmission in a county. At the present time, Union County is the only county in the state at the substantial level which is being attributed to a spike in infections at the Federal Prison in that county, Levine said.

Initially, districts were given three options for opening schools–fully in-person, totally remote learning or a hybrid of the two with students rotating in and out of in-person and remote learning.

Within the three thresholds,

districts can opt for in-person learning in counties where the transmission rate is low. At the moderate threshold, it is suggested that districts open in either the hybrid or fully remote model. Full remote learning is the only option open to counties in the substantial category.

In Lycoming County, five districts, Muncy, Loyalsock Township, St. John Neumann, Jersey Shore Area and East Lycoming had opted for full in-person instruction, while the remaining districts chose a hybrid alternate model.

Dr. Brian Ulmer, superintendent at Jersey Shore, which is actually located in Lycoming and Clinton counties had announced at the school board meeting earlier this week that the district was reopening a parent survey so that parents could change what model of instruction they preferred for their child, based on the recommendations.

When asked about the county’s current designation and the recommendation that students not return for full in-person instruction, Ulmer said, “Lycoming County is moderate, but what we saw yesterday is that the state is still calling those recommendations. According to what I’ve received, we don’t have to because they’re considered recommendations.”

Since the new guidance is so recent, Michael Pawlik, superintendent at East Lycoming School District, said that every health and safety plan that districts submitted to PDE in order to reopen this fall do not contain the new recommendations.

“We’re still digesting the new information,” Pawlik said. “There’s not one plan in the state that mentions those three terms. We’re trying to figure out what this all means.”

Dr. Craig Skaluba, Muncy’s superintendent, said that the new information would be discussed at the board meeting next week.

“We just received the guidance yesterday and obviously we still need time to interpret it and get it out to everybody in order to have a discussion,” Skaluba said.

The state did noted that while a county’s threshold might change week to week, the recommendation is that schools consider changing instructional models only after two consecutive weeks at the same designation.

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