Mifflinburg, Lewisburg school officials to track COVID-19 cases after state recommends online-only start

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item The Mifflinburg High School.

Mifflinburg Area School Board voted Tuesday night to delay the start of school to Sept. 8, pushing it back from the original start date of Aug. 20.

The vote follows the state Department of Health’s recommendation on Monday that school districts in Union County not hold in-person instruction due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the county. The county was the only one in the state listed as having a “substantial” growth in cases over the past seven days.

Superintendent Dan Lichtel recommended the board delay the first day of classes. He said that during a 10 a.m. call on Monday, the Department of Health officials recommended the district consider other options such as fully remote learning.

“Moving the first student day to Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, gives time for teachers and parents to prepare for any learning (model) we hope to pull off,” Lichtel told board members during the Zoom meeting.

Board member Wendy McClintock cast the lone no vote. She did not give a reason.

Delaying the start of school also gives the district time to collect additional COVID data that officials hope would show fewer cases.

Lichtel said administrators hope to continue with live teaching. When board member Amy Wehr asked if a hybrid model was being considered, he said officials have explored a hybrid model. He said the additional time would give the district more time to explore that option.

The previously approved plan called for in-person instruction, with an option for online learning for parents who wanted that.

Lichtel said delaying the start of the school year will mean adding an additional five days in June to satisfy the state’s 180-day requirement. The district will move some inservice days toward beginning of the year as part of teacher preparation.

Both Lichtel and Superintendent Jennifer Polinchock of Lewisburg Area, the only other county school district, said on Monday they will monitor Union County’s COVID-19 cases as the start of the school year approaches. 

Lewisburg Area School Board meets on Thursday evening and is expected to discuss the matter.

The state announced new metrics to help guide school reopenings. Union County’s “substantial” category — which includes the metric of 100 or more positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day window — means the state recommends no in-person instruction until the case numbers drop.

The state health and education departments recommend that schools consider changing instructional models only after observing two consecutive weeks of the same designation.

The latest state data show Union County’s total positive cases per 100,000 residents was 185.3. The sharp increase is tied directly to a spike at the federal prisons in Lewisburg and Allenwood, which have combined for 55 cases over the past two weeks. From March 6 — the first date state data was released — until July 30, Union County had 132 cases. The county has had 105 cases since July 31.

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