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BASD keeps COVID numbers manageable

BELLEFONTE — With masking mandatory in school districts throughout the state, the goal for most schools is to keep their doors open for the 2021-22 school year and continue with face-to-face instruction.

During Tuesday night’s Bellefonte school board meeting, superintendent Tammie Burnaford indicated that the mask mandate appears to be working. Burnaford said that compared to other districts in Centre County, BASD has “far less quarantine” than other districts.

Bellefonte, she said, has been able to keep its COVID-19 case count in the single digits.

“Many of our cases are if someone in the home is sick,” Burnford explained.

She credited parents for helping to keep case counts low.

“Parents have done a phenomenal job of keeping their kids home if they are sick,” Burnaford said. “They have done a great job of notifying us as soon as they possibly know. Sometimes that lags a day or two or three, particularly on weekends. Principals are back to doing what they did last year — contact tracing as soon as we know. They’re taking their time to make sure that’s done and done well.”

The district is following the Department of Health’s mask mandate and employing other mitigation strategies as well, Burnaford said.

To cut down on having large groups of students together, social distancing efforts are critical.

“Our elementary schools have gone back to eating in their classrooms. To maintain that six feet of distance, we have removed some extra furniture from classrooms … everywhere is a minimum of three feet,” Burnaford said.

And just like last year, the district is recommending frequent hand washing. The schools also undergo frequent cleaning and sanitizing.

“I have received a list of things we should be doing off of PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) and it was gratifying to know that we’re doing many of the things we should, specifically to each building,” Burnaford said.

Burnaford said that the key to keeping schools open is to keeping COVID-19 case counts under control.

“As soon as we get cases, we react to them,” Burnaford said.

The district is sending updates to parents every Friday and Monday, she said.

“Again, it’s commending the parents and commending the students of this district,” Burnaford said. “It’s what kept us going last year and it’s what we have done extremely well going into this year. Our teachers are working hard and our principals are working hard to make sure that we’re providing as much safety as we possibly can.”

Burnaford said that she has spoken with superintendents in neighboring school districts — Bald Eagle Area and Penns Valley — about their rising case counts.

“We are not like our neighboring districts … they have a significant number of quarantines at Bald Eagle and they have a significant number of cases at Penns Valley,” Burnaford said.

The mood at Tuesday night’s meeting was civil. Unlike previous meetings, where large groups of anti-masking parents turned out, there was very little public comment and the meeting was adjourned after just 58 minutes.

The Bellefonte school board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5. The meeting will be held in-person at the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria and masks are required. The meeting is also streamed live via Zoom through the district’s website. Those wishing to speak via Zoom must pre-register.

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