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

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item The Mifflinburg High School.

All students in all grades at Mifflinburg Area School District can start the school year in-person as the board of directors again voted to shift its instructional model ahead of the first day of class.

The school board voted unanimously, 9-0, to begin the 2020-21 school year on Sept. 8 with the traditional in-person model of education five days a week for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Parents now have one in-district alternative: the district’s own cyber school, Mifflinburg e-Learning Academy. The new plan eliminates the blended version where secondary school students could have remained at home and effectively remain part of their classroom via live streaming videos, recorded videos and guided online assignments.

The e-Learning Academy is offered by an independent contractor with a curriculum sometimes intersecting with the district’s, Superintendent Dan Lichtel explained. Enrollment would need to grow before a district teacher were to take over instruction on the e-Learning platform, Lichtel said.

Other alternatives like independent cyber schools lead parents beyond the district.

According to Lichtel, this latest change approved Tuesday comes as case counts of COVID-19 have fallen over the past two weeks. The dip allowed Union County to fall out of the severe community spread category as designated by the state Department of Health. It found itself in severe status following outbreaks in a federal prison, a drug rehab center and those congregate settings.

“I feel good about our county’s data for numerous reasons,” Lichtel said. “This is not a reaction to public opinion but it’s really a reaction to the change in numbers.”

Lichtel warned that a spike in COVID-19 cases could cause building or district closures. One case wouldn’t do it, he said. Two would trigger a three-day building closure for deep cleaning. Five cases or more could lead to a district-wide shift to remote learning, he said.

The district would continue its plans to adhere to masking and social distancing policies as mandated by the state departments of Health and Education, Lichtel expressed.

The district website would soon be updated to reflect the new instructional model. There’s already information there about health screening measures intended daily for parents, students and staff to take on.

Last week, on Aug. 25, board members cast a 7-2 vote on a different plan that allowed elementary children either to attend in-person or register for e-Learning. Grades 6 to 12 would have been on a hybrid plan, attending school twice weekly and learning remotely the other three days. That plan is scrapped.

Last week’s plan sought to reduce the campus-wide student population by 40 to 50 percent, though enrollment figures didn’t bear that out. The drop was achieved at the high school but not other district buildings, according to data provided by Lichtel.

The board had initially voted on July 28 to allow all district parents to choose either in-person or e-Learning.

Director Amy Wehr advocated for flexibility in schoolwork deadlines should the district shift to remote learning if a community spread returns. Wehr said child care would be a particular burden on working families.

Wehr also questioned how another shift in the instructional model reflects on the board. Director Wendy McClintock said the 90-plus minute meeting, following a three-hour meeting last week, is needed for directors to ask questions and address community concerns.

“We are constantly changing. What applied two weeks ago doesn’t apply today. It’s unpredictable. All we can do is have good planning for the best performance. I think that’s all we can hope for,” Board President Dennis Keiser said.

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