Schools closed for rest of year

By Shawn Hardy
Greencastle-Antrim schools, like those across the state, will now be closed for the rest of the school year by order of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to prevent the spread of COVID-19. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

Pennsylvania schools, shuttered March 16 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday.

"I was hopeful we would return to school, but I anticipated this to happen due to the COVID-19 PA data," said Dr. Kendra Trail, Greencastle-Antrim School District superintendent.

On Sunday, officials reported nearly 23,000 cases and 507 deaths statewide. Also as of Sunday, there were 64 confirmed cases and no deaths in Franklin County. Numbers for nearby Pennsylvania counties: Adams, 48 cases, one death; Cumberland, 110 cases, three deaths; and Fulton, one case, no deaths. On Saturday, Washington County, Md., reported 85 cases and one death.

“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said. “This was not an easy decision but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employees and families.”

“While the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigation efforts have created uncertainty in our schools and communities, today’s action to close schools for the remainder of the academic year provides school communities with predictability and understanding of the conditions under which they’ll be operating and serving students,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera.

Back to learning 

"With schools closed for the remainder of the year, we will continue to educate our students the best way we can," Trail said.

The district prepared for the possibility of an extended closure when it announced its plan to return to students to learning late March.

At that time, Trail said the plan was designed "to continue education for our students even if decisions are made to continue school closures across the state, which could become a reality."

On April 6, high schoolers resumed coursework in their regular classes online and teachers provided guidance in several subject areas for younger students.

The high school students are using the iPads each received in January under the first part of the district's Equal Technology Opportunities initiative.

"We feel that it has been pretty successful thus far as teachers have shared some positive messages from parents," Trail said. "The teachers have connected with our families and students and our teachers have participated in trainings and created lessons and activities in approximately two weeks' time."

However, students in kindergarten through eighth grade have to rely on the technology available in their homes.

Devices have given to families without them, but Trail said, "We are still awaiting hotspots that have been on back order. We remain concerned that some families do not have internet connectivity at this point, but we are working on that."

The governor announced state grants are available to assist districts and G-A has applied for technology funding.

Trail also is concerned that some emails to families have ended up in spam or junk folders.

 What about graduation? 

In a letter to parents last week, Train said, "With today’s announcement that all Pennsylvania schools will be closed for the remainder of the year, I am sure there are many unanswered questions you have as we move forward in completing the 2019-20 school year virtually. I am extremely saddened for all of our students, but especially our seniors as they will be unable to complete a typical senior year. I had already begun conversations with Dr. (Ed) Rife, high school principal, about a tentative plan for graduation. Please know that once we finalize plans for graduation and other possible events, that information will be communicated to you. Thank you for your patience as we work through this unprecedented time."