Cumberland County schools will join schools across the state in closing for two weeks as the state works to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
After a few local schools reported their closures, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all K-12 Pennsylvania schools will close for 10 business days, effective Monday. The Wolf administration has been working with school districts, as well as state and local officials, to gather input on the decision, and Wolf said they will reevaluate the need for closures at the end of 10 days.
"First and foremost, my top priority as governor — and that of our education leaders — must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities," Wolf said. "As such, I am ordering that all schools in the commonwealth close for the next two weeks."
The order affecting more than 1.7 million school children, in public and private K-12 schools, came as confirmed cases in the state leaped to 33 from 22, including the first patient under 18.
Wolf said no district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180-day or school hours requirement because of the closure.
Following the order, teachers' unions, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and other school organizations released a joint statement supporting the move.
Though Wolf ordered the closure, not all schools are treating it the same way. Some will offer online instruction, while others will have no instruction during this time frame.
Carlisle Area School District said it will use an Act 80 day on Monday for curriculum planning, and starting on Tuesday, students will resume education via flexible instruction days from home.
"While we recognize that this situation is not at all how we expected to use FIDs, we are hopeful that they will provide some stability and structure while we are out of school," Carlisle Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said in an email to parents.
Students will be permitted to come to school between noon and 3 p.m. Monday to pick up anything left in lockers, classrooms or desks they may need, as well as pick up medication and electronic devices.
Spielbauer said the coronavirus has been a topic of discussion among superintendents since the first week of March.
"We have been in ongoing communications over the past week about this," she said, adding that parochial and private schools have been coordinating their closures in response to the virus and disease, COVID-19.
The district will stay in touch with families on what to expect during the second week of the closure.
Cumberland Valley School District will not provide instruction during the closure, but it said its teachers may send optional educational resources home with students to provide them with activities that keep them engaged in school.
"Please know that the decision to close schools across the district was extremely difficult," Superintendent David Christopher said in a notice online. "We know that closing our schools will impact our most vulnerable families, and we recognize that working families depend on the consistency and predictability of supports and services our schools offer. We are working with partners throughout the community to determine how to best mitigate the impact closing schools will have on working families.
South Middleton School District said in a letter to parents it is evaluating the need for an instructional plan for students during the closure.
"Our goal would not be to fully replace classroom instruction but to help our students to maintain some level of academic focus during the closure," wrote Melanie Shaver-Durham, director of curriculum and instruction at the district.
During the closure, all school buildings will be cleaned, and the district has requested its transportation contractor complete an additional disinfection of buses.
Big Spring School District Superintendent Rich Fry said he was on a call Friday morning with the state secretary of education, the state Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Through that conversation, Fry said it became apparent the school community had to make a decision to "not only protect our students and staff, but also our community."
"Please know that we have taken dramatic and progressive steps as a collective staff to ensure educational continuity," Fry said in a letter. "More specifically, education will be delivered to our students while they are off-site. Our staff are in preparations to deliver content remotely to our students via appropriate tools such as SeeSaw, Google Classroom and other learning management applications."
Fry said additional course-specific information will be communicated Monday to guide students and their families through the process.
Big Spring's announcement also affects all student and staff field trips, off-site events and travel, including athletics and staff professional development. Only "essential" staff will be permitted in the buildings during the closure to allow for custodial staff to "complete a deep clean of the facilities prior to a return to normal operations."
Mechanicsburg Area School District Superintendent Mark Leidy said in an email to parents that the administration will continue to evaluate the situation to determine and communicate the next steps. All school buildings in the district will be closed and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
The district did not specify about student instruction, but it did say that the closure affects all programming at school, including before- and after-school activities, all athletic and extracurricular practices and competitions, weekend events and facility rentals.
Shippensburg Area School District Superintendent Chris Suppo in a statement online said there will be no educational programming for students during the next two weeks, and all extracurricular and athletic events will be canceled. Like Mechanicsburg, no organizations will be permitted to use or rent district-owned facilities during this time.
East Pennsboro Area School District Superintendent Donna Dunar announced in a letter to parents that it will use its approved FIDs to keep students engaged over the next two weeks. Elementary students will receive assignments by email from the building principal, and middle and high school students will receive assignments through Google Classroom.
Camp Hill School District Superintendent Patricia Craig said in a letter that students were asked prior to dismissal Friday to take all instructional materials home, and teachers will develop plans for "alternate instructional delivery methods" during an in-service day Monday. The district said additional information regarding such plans and resources will be provided via Blackboard.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education on Thursday announced that it received approval Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow K-12 schools in the state to serve meals off-site to students, which will be available at no cost to low-income children.
Wolf said on Friday that schools could serve meals to students in a noncongregate setting, such as a drive-thru or grab-and-go, during the closure. He said his administration is working with schools to assist them with those plans.
Project SHARE Executive Director Bob Weed said the food pantry is working with Carlisle to make sure low-income students get meals.
"We'll work with them and work out some ways we can backstop and support those families," Weed said.
East Pennsboro said students who qualify for free and reduced lunch can pick up meals for the week at the Panther Pack location at East Pennsboro Elementary School from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, and again on Monday, March 23 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Check back to Cumberlink.com as more information becomes available from other schools.
Email Naomi Creason at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason