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Back to School

Area districts prepare for 2021-22 school year

As we prepare to turn the calendar to August, it’s time to start thinking about students heading back to school.

There are many question marks as students prepare to head back. With COVID-19 cases on the rise once again, schools could face the possibility of mandatory masking, though no district in The Express’ coverage area is requiring it — for now.

Buses are a different story, however. Masks and face coverings are currently required on school buses because of the Jan. 1, 2021 Executive Order of U.S. President Joe Biden. All area districts must follow all executive orders by state and federal officials. Parental transportation is an option for families who do not wish to use the school buses.

What follows is a breakdown of area schools and their health and safety plans for the upcoming school year:

BALD EAGLE AREA

First day of school: Tuesday, Aug. 31

Masks: Optional

At a recent school board meeting, Bald Eagle Area approved its Health and Safety Plan for the 2021-22 school year. It was decided by the board that masking will not be required, regardless of vaccination status.

“We want to get back to a sense of normalcy as much as possible,” said Bald Eagle Area superintendent Scott Graham. “I’m glad that schools have flexibility this year and we can actually look at our specific circumstances and we’re not being all compared as if we’re all the same — because we’re not.”

Other mitigation efforts will still be in place, including hand sanitizing stations, improved ventilation and contact tracing, according to Graham.

Disinfecting technology will cover the entire district.

“We want to try to be proactive, and if things … get worse, we will take a look at that,” said Graham. “Unless it becomes a mandate, the masking is going to be optional.”

Graham said the board came to this decision by evaluating their cases and data from the previous school year.

“The thing that we can’t do is let our guards down,” Graham said. “If people remain vigilant and they continue to do a lot of the things they did last year in terms of monitoring themselves and their children, I’ll think we’ll be okay. I think we’ll be in good shape.”

BELLEFONTE

First day of school: Tuesday, Aug. 31

Masks: Optional

On July 27, the Bellefonte school board approved its Health and Safety Plan. Like every other district in The Express’ coverage area, masks will be optional for students in all schools.

“What we have to do is make the best plan we can with the data and the information that we have at the exact moment. But things could change,” said superintendent Tammie Burnaford.

Last year, masks were required in the district and some parents opted instead for BeLA, the district’s online teaching tool. The district had just a few closures last year due to cases of COVID-19.

JERSEY SHORE

First day of school: Thursday, Aug. 26

Masks: Optional

At a recent school board meeting on July 26, Jersey Shore superintendent Brian Ulmer talked about the “hot topic” of masking. Like all of the other area districts, Jersey Shore will be optional for masks, in spite of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommending that school districts encourage all teachers, staff, students and visitors in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The district will not test students for COVID-19, Ulmer said.

“We are not testing kids. I know there’s some rumblings out there about the state providing funding to do testing in school,” Ulmer said. “I am not a healthcare provider. That has been my answer since day one … I don’t want to do testing in schools.”

KEYSTONE CENTRAL

First day of school: Tuesday, Aug. 31

Masks: Optional

On July 8, the Keystone Central school board approved an updated Health and Safety Plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the plan, masks and face coverings are not required at school, but can be worn by choice.

Additionally, KCSD will maintain physical distancing of three feet when possible in all schools. Temperatures will be no longer be taken daily for all, but rather as needed by the school nurse.

The Health and Safety Plan also states that daily cleaning and sanitizing will continue. KCSD administrators will continue to conduct contract tracing when known cases of COVID-19 have occurred.

“Our plan uses layered strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said KCSD superintendent Jacquelyn Martin. “While masks are not mandatory at this time, I still recommend that unvaccinated individuals follow the CDC guidelines for masking.”

The district has three options for learning — face-to-face instruction, virtual academy and learn at home.

LOCK HAVEN CATHOLIC

First day of school: Wednesday, Aug. 25

Masks: Optional

Lock Haven Catholic, located on Water Street in Lock Haven, will see its doors open for the 2021-22 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 25. Masks will be optional for students.

The school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

SUGAR VALLEY RURAL

CHARTER SCHOOL

First day of school: Wednesday, Aug. 25

Masks: Optional

Sugar Valley Rural Charter School’s first day of classes will be Wednesday, Aug. 25. It’s the earliest start day of any secondary school in the area. SVRCS was remote for a good portion of the 2020-21 school year. However, that will change for the upcoming school year. According to the SVRCS website the district is “happily preparing for all of our remote instruction students to return to campus for in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.”

According to SVRCS’ Health and Safety Plan, the school will comply with CDC and PDE mandates. It says that “staff and students may voluntarily wear masks at any time.” The plan also states that all PPE equipment will be provided upon request.

The SVRCS website says that “remote instruction will only be utilized if the school closes for any health and safety reasons.”

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