PA Schools Go Remote Amid Pre-Holiday COVID Spike

PENNSYLVANIA — State COVID-19 case totals continue to rise in Pennsylvania, prompting a number of communities and decision makers to shift protocols, cancel events, and decide to close up shop.

In districts like Cheltenham in Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia, this means halting in-person instruction leading into winter break.

"To limit the continued uptick in this data and to maintain our commitment to student and staff
health and safety, our only recourse is to pivot to virtual learning," Superintendent Brian W. Scriven wrote to the school community Tuesday.

Nearby in Montgomery County, Harriton High School canceled all extracurricular activities after an outbreak at the school. The district is giving students the option to learn virtually Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday amid the outbreak, but they're hopeful they can return to full in-person learning in the new year.

"Failure to practice mitigation efforts over Winter Break will likely lead to additional cases once students return," the district said. "Additional outbreaks could jeopardize our ability to continue in-person instruction and activities."

Statewide, COVID-19 cases have remained consistently higher among school-aged children this year than they were a year ago, despite the availability of the vaccines to the younger age groups. One possible reason is that the delta variant impacted younger individuals in a way which the original virus did not.

There have been 113,413 cases among school-aged children, aged 5 t0 18, since mid-August, before the 2021-22 school year began. At points, the number of weekly cases in this group was up to 11 times higher than the same week in 2020.

Other school districts around the state are undergoing short term "pauses" to in-person learning. In zip codes where vaccination rates are particularly low, including parts of Philadelphia, educators are calling for a blanket return to remote learning.

Yet other districts have had their hands forced. In Philadelphia, Olney Charter High School had to cancel classes this week after 41 teachers refused to come to work in protest of COVID-19 safety measures following the death of a 17-year-old student due to the virus.

Five other schools have closed for short periods in the city, Chalkbeat Philadelphia reports, with plans to reopen on Jan. 4.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently added guidance concerning "test to stay" practices, which are put in place to cut down on absenteeism and learning loss related to a traditional quarantine.

It combines contact tracing and serial testing to allow students to continue in-person learning during after being exposed to COVID-19 as an alternative to traditional quarantining. Serial testing is defined as testing twice over a seven-day period.

Still, as COVID-19 infections have more than doubled from this time last week, officials say the best way to fight COVID-19 is through testing and vaccination, including booster shots.

With reporting from Patch correspondent Montana Samuels

This article originally appeared on the Norristown Patch