Leaders in Valley School Districts said they will seek guidance from the state Department of Health (DOH) if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 during the upcoming academic year.
Schools' responsibilities change depending on the level of community transmission in the county vs. the number of cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period at the school, according to information from the state Department of Education (PDE).
For example, if one student or staff member tests positive and the county is considered to be at low or moderate risk, the school does not need to close; it must clean area(s) where the infected person spent time and public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine.
As of Friday, Union County was the only county in the Valley with "substantial" risk, which means it is recommended that school starts online-only. Northumberland and Snyder counties are considered at moderate-risk level. Montour is at low-risk level.
If infections hit two to four students or staff in the same building, more than five percent of total number of students and staff in a school building, or multiple school buildings with individual cases who are not household contacts, then schools in counties with low and moderate risks must close school(s) for five to seven days, clean area(s) where infected people spent time and public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine.
Any more significant amounts of infections and schools in low or moderate counties must close for 14 days, clean entire schools and public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine.
Districts are recommended by the state to isolate staff or students who become ill during the school day. Line Mountain's policy is worded: "If a student or staff member becomes ill they will immediately report to the nurse who will isolate the person to the greatest extent possible. Persons who have COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation following CDC recommendations."
Line Mountain mailed a symptom monitor checklist home to all parents last week to inform them how to screen their child before they get on the bus. The district stressed in the alerts over the last week that safety starts with them and adhering to the checklist is the first and most important priority, said district Superintendent Dave Campbell.
Warrior Run Superintendent Alan Hack said parents are being asked to conduct a symptom screen on their child(ren) each day before leaving school, a request also made by Campbell to Line Mountain parents.
"If a student or teacher tests positive, the school district will be in contact with the Department of Health who is responsible for conducting the contact tracing," Hack said. "We are awaiting further instructions on how the process will unfold."
Hack said he believes there has not been enough clear guidance from the state.
"The lack of clear guidance in conjunction with the timing of what is released has been problematic for school districts," said Hack. "While we understand the evolving nature of the pandemic, school districts need clearer guidance on making public health decisions. However, we continue to do our best with the information we have in our hands at the time we have it. With that said, Dr. Mark DiRocco and the PASA (Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators) organization have been extremely helpful to schools across the commonwealth and should be commended for their advocacy."
Shamokin Area will follow state Department of Health guidelines and parents will be provided information from the nursing department on self-checks to help them, said Superintendent Chris Venna.
Hack said the symptom screen includes taking temperatures and identifying if any COVID-related symptoms are present. Students with a fever or any of the symptoms should not be sent to school. Parents should contact the school nurse to report the symptoms and contact their PCP for further directions.
Parents are required to do symptom screenings and temperature checks prior to sending students to school at Shikellamy, according to Superintendent Jason Bendle.
"Should families need assistance with this process, please contact your child's school nurse's office," said Bendle. "If a child displays any symptoms or has a fever of 100 degrees or higher, the student cannot come to school. Students cannot return to school until they are symptom-free and unmedicated for 24 hours."
The following are the symptoms: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.
Milton Area School District Superintendent Cathy Keegan said the district understands its role as public school entities.
"With the ever-changing landscape due to the pandemic, we acknowledge the need for agility and flexibility," she said. "We value the input from medical experts at the local, state and federal level, appreciating the guidance on how to create a healthy and safe learning environment.
Keegan complimented the state education and health departments for their communication efforts.
"Together, PDE and DOH created processes to guide school districts and created websites that provide a plethora of resources for those interested in learning more," she said.
If Danville Area School District students or staff show symptoms of COVID-19, the district will follow the guidance from the state, Superintendent Ricki Boyle said.
That guidance includes isolating the person showing symptoms in a separate room or separate space in the nurse's office, and then sending the student or staff member home with a referral to a health care provider. Someone with a positive COVID-19 test must isolate for 10 days and someone who is a close contact to someone with COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days. State and local health officials would provide guidance to the parents and the school.
Parents are being asked to screen students at home prior to the student going on the bus or going to school, Boyle said.
"We will have the screening information from the Department of Health to provide guidance for parents," she said.