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Greencastle-Antrim School District revamps COVID-19 health and safety plan

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot
First-grader Gabriel McCleary wore a mask on the first day of school at Greencastle-Antrim Primary School. The district is asking everyone to wear a mask rather than a face shield.

The Greencastle-Antrim School District's COVID-19 health and safety plan has been adjusted to align with the Pennsylvania Department of Health's approach, but three guiding priorities remain in place.

At Thursday's school board meeting, Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, unveiled the new approach the district is using to determine whether to cancel in-person instruction. She also outlined added restrictions in school buildings.

Hanks discusses how the staff, students and community are "united to tackle every curveball this year sends at us" in a video available at https://youtu.be/aVFQngXA6yE

Four cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the high school since Thursday and eighth-grade students are in their second week of all virtual learning as the result of seven cases — six students and a teacher. A food service worker at the primary school rounds out the positive list.

Hanks said the three priorities in making decisions remain the health and safety of students, staff and community; high quality educational programming; and the social and emotional health of students, staff and their families.

More:https://youtu.be/aVFQngXA6yE

The Greencastle-Antrim School District's COVID-19 instructional plan

New levels

The district's initial health and safety plan followed the state's color-coded red, yellow and green phases of COVID-19 reopening.

Pennsylvania is now using a low, moderate and substantial level system and the school district is following suit, based on grade levels or groupings of students.

Low to moderate follows the same schedule that has been in place since the beginning of the school year. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade attend school Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays while at the high school, half the students are in school Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half Thursdays and Fridays. Learning is online for everyone on Wednesdays.

The substantial level is reached if "2 to 4% of a given population or group becomes affected" and instruction becomes all virtual for two weeks, as happened with the eighth-graders.

The breakdown is:

2 or more confirmed cases based on contact tracing in a single class or "group"

5 or more in a grade level

10 or more in Group A at the high school

10 or more in Group B at the high school

The aim is to keep the plan "smart and simple" and to be "able to slide in and out easily without compromising education," Hanks said.

Greencastle-Antrim High School staffers wore masks for graduation ceremonies. The district is asking everyone to wear masks rather than face shields.

Building restrictions

The district can offer a quality education in-person or online, but the goal is to keep the buildings open as much as possible, Hanks said.

Steps in that direction include new face-covering regulations and building use limitations.

The district is emphasizing face masks over face shields. As of Monday, all students and staff have to wear face masks unless their shield wraps around the side of the face and extends below the chin.

"We advise all staff and students to choose a face mask, rather than a shield to further protect each other in this substantial phase of the pandemic," Hanks' presentation said.

Dr. Carter Davidson, a school board member and ear, nose and throat specialist, said data indicates face shields "aren't that good."

The number of people other than students and staff in the buildings also is being kept to a minimum.

Only school-based teams and clubs can use the buildings, no parents or spectators are allowed at practices and spectators for events must adhere to capacity guidelines and the health and safety plan.

More:G-A School District 'drops anchor' to evaluate COVID-19 reopening plan

More:COVID cases concentrated in G-A eighth grade, instruction moves online

At the high school

The first positive case of COVID-19 at the high school was a freshman, the second a senior in a specialized program and the third and fourth seniors who are both in attendance Group A (Mondays and Tuesdays).

Hanks's letters to families indicated exposure for the second, third and fourth students was outside of school. She did not say where the first student was exposed.

"We are asking families that know of exposure outside of school to quarantine for 14 days as a safety measure," Hanks wrote in a letter to families on Sunday. "We are able to accommodate virtual learning and will support students in this situation. Families simply need to notify the school of their circumstances so that we can work through the quarantine with the teachers. Of course, any students displaying questionable symptoms that can’t otherwise be explained should remain at home."

Other students and staff who may have been in contact with the infected students also have been notified to quarantine for 14 days.

"Our rigid schedule and assigned seats during class and lunch in the high school has kept the impact minimal," Hanks added.