State Officials Recommend Westmoreland County Schools Go Online-Only As Coronavirus Cases Rise

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) – For the second week in a row, the state says Westmoreland County has a substantial level of coronavirus community transmission, meaning it’s recommended schools switch to online-only learning.

The state’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard for the week of Oct. 16-22 puts Westmoreland County in the “substantial” category when it comes to the level of community transmission. The county was moved from “moderate” to “substantial” during the week of Oct. 9-15.

“We can’t wait until it’s over, everything is cleared up and it’s over,” says parent Donald Hoyman.

Hoyman has four children in the Hempfield Area School District, which is one of many mulling over going completely online because of the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

“As parents, we want to see out kids going to school. Some of our kids aren’t as good with the online learning, but I understand safety has to be a number one priority for the school districts themselves,” he says.

The state’s dashboard says Westmoreland County has a 8.4% percent-positivity in the last 7 days. The rest of the state has a 5% percent-positivity.

“I think kids should stay in school. That’s my own personal belief. Our school hasn’t had any cases so far, I know it’s bad in some places,” says parent Laura Graham.

Parent Liz Nicholson says she supports remote learning.

“I think it’s a good idea just so the illnesses can calm down so the kids can be comfortable learning not wearing masks at school,” Nicholson says.

Parent Addison Johnson says, “It’s hard. It’s very hard. You have three kids who are doing online studying and they’re not getting the education that they need.”

In weekly updates both this week and last, the Governor’s Office says the departments of health and education would be talking with district representatives in counties with substantial community transmission about what that means for instructional models.

According to the Department of Education’s guidelines, it’s recommended school districts in counties with substantial community spread shift to a full remote learning.

However, the department of education acknowledges that percent positivity rates rise and fall.

“In order to confirm stability of county transmission, when a county’s corresponding threshold changes, school entities should wait to see the results from the next 7-day reporting period before considering a change to their instructional models,” the Department of Education’s website says.

“To ensure the most effective transition for students, it may be appropriate for a school to wait even longer, up to a full marking period, to transition to an instructional model that increases in-person instruction.”

The Hempfield Area School District, the largest school district in the county, will continue to hold in-person classes. The Greensburg Salem and Penn-Trafford districts have also decided to remain open and continue using hybrid models

Only Yough School District says it’s switching to full online learning.

With a total of 86 separate schools in various districts, going completely online would be a significant undertaking for the districts. But beyond the students and teachers, many of the folks KDKA’s Ross Guidotti spoke to said remote learning could shake the lives of parents trying to balance work and their new roles as educators.

“It’s extremely difficult. I’ve a husband who works midnights. He tries to sleep all day, so having three kids in the house in this weather, it’s not great for him,” said Johnson.

Hoyman said, “It complicates everything about 10 fold, all the extra workload of a, working and b, being a teacher as well, it gets complicated.”

Also in the substantial category for Oct. 16-22 are Berks, Bradford, Centre, Elk, Huntingdon, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Lebanon, Luzerne, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties.