Danville Area School District students will start school on Sept. 3, a week later than originally planned, and it appears students will be required to wear masks at all times, Superintendent Ricki Boyle said.
Boyle said the district is delaying the start of the 2020-21 school year due to "updated recommendations" from the state departments of Health and Education. She announced on Monday the new start date for students will be Sept. 3 and the last day scheduled for June 4. Danville was scheduled to start classes with three options — in-person, a hybrid-bridge model, and cyber — on Aug. 27.
In a letter on Monday afternoon, the Department of Education (DOE) told districts that "DOH (Department of Health) is requiring students wear face coverings at all times while in school, even when six feet of social distancing can be achieved. There are limited exceptions."
State officials based their recommendation on guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Previously, they said students could remove their masks if they were six feet away," Boyle said.
Now the only exceptions to the rule are if students are eating, they are facing some sort of danger, or if they take a break of no more than 10 minutes while six feet away from everyone else, Boyle said.
"All this money we spent," she said. "We bought desks instead of tables so we can make the distance appropriate, so we'd keep six feet social distance."
Boyle said the district used COVID funds to set up their classrooms for a six-foot distance so students didn't have to wear masks all of the time. She said teachers removed any excess in the classroom to make sure everyone would be six feet apart.
"And now it doesn't matter," she said. "Our administrative team will meet (Tuesday) to discuss how to proceed."
She said the school calendar was changed to start later so teachers would be better prepared and the case numbers hopefully would be down.
Lewisburg Area and Mifflinburg Area postponed their start dates last week.
Boyle already was frustrated because the state only last week provided school leaders with advice about how to respond when students or employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been on school property — from cleaning and tracing their contacts to shutting down buildings for two weeks or longer. The latest requirement that students wear masks at all times added to her frustration.
"School districts across the state are very flexible and truly want to do what's best for their students, so every mandate, every guidance we're paying attention," Boyle said.
She said she's not the only one who is frustrated.
"The community's frustrated," she said.
The Education and Health departments late Thursday notified school administrators of the recommended procedures for reopening, which depend on how many people are infected and how widespread the disease has been growing in their county. School leaders had sought the advice as they plan for restarting instruction this fall, said Education Department spokesman Rick Levis.
“It’s additional guidance that we’re providing to the school districts because we recognize that they’re not medical professionals,” Levis said Friday.
The state announced seven new cases of coronavirus among Montour County residents last week to push the total to 104.
"As you know, the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s school communities is the top priority, and the guidance we release to support and maintain the health and safety of school communities is rooted in science, data and research," Matthew Stem, deputy secretary in DOE's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in Monday's email on the mask requirement. "As more data and research becomes available, the information that becomes guidance must evolve.
"Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an update to their guidance strongly recommending children age two and older should wear face coverings at all times to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus."
Stem said that led DOE to change its recommendation.