Wattsburg students to learn at home until November

A growing number of COVID-19 cases and a decreasing number of available staff have prompted the Wattsburg-area school district to suspend in-person learning until November.

Students at two parish schools in the Erie region will be learning remotely this week only, also due to the increase in cases of the virus.

In the Wattsburg Area School District, students at Wattsburg Area Elementary Center, Wattsburg Area Middle School and Seneca High School will learn at home until schools reopen on December 1.

The number of COVID-19 cases at Wattsburg Elementary School has reached 5% of the school population in the past 14 days, requiring a mandatory school closure as per guidelines from the County Health Department. Erie, Superintendent of Schools Ken Berlin said on Monday.

District-wide, 151 students, or about 10% of students in the district, have been quarantined in the past two weeks due to their exposure to the coronavirus.

Staff members have also tested positive for the virus, and with only 17 bus drivers now available due to COVID-19 cases and medical absences, it is impossible to get students to and from schools in safe, said Berlin.

“We ran through various scenarios last Friday and came to the conclusion that it was not only physically impossible but also dangerous to further consolidate trips and load already crowded buses to capacity,” Berlin said.

The district normally operates 25 buses per day but this school year has only had a maximum of 21 drivers. The district consolidated bus lines, forcing some high school students to take the bus for almost 90 minutes to and from school, or three hours a day.

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Substitute teachers and support staff are also in short supply or simply unavailable, Berlin said. The district has increased the salary of substitute teachers to $ 120 per day to try to attract teachers as needed.

“We are also short-term caretakers, which makes it difficult to keep buildings at a safe level of cleanliness,” he said.

The district is in the process of adding new bus drivers, guards and other support staff over the next two weeks so that schools can safely reopen on December 1, Berlin said.

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Blessed Sacrament School in Erie and Saint Jude School in Millcreek Township are closed for in-person classes until Friday. Students will learn remotely this week, said Alicia Tellers, communications manager for the Erie Catholic school system.

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The two parish schools were previously scheduled to be closed next week for parent-teacher conferences and the Thanksgiving break. No classes are scheduled from November 22 to 26.

The Erie School District announced last week that Grover Cleveland Elementary School will be closed for in-person learning until November due to cases of COVID-19.

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Erie County began to see a further increase in new cases of COVID-19 about two weeks ago. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 159 new cases in the county on Monday, 226 Sunday and 241 Saturday – totals similar to those reported at the height of the initial outbreak in December.

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That current spike includes a 69% increase in cases over the past four weeks among county school-aged children, from 160 cases per week to 270, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also increased in the county after a small drop. The county’s 14-day moving average of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 72.9 patients on Monday after 82 county residents were hospitalized Sunday evening, including 42 in intensive care units and 12 who needed ventilators .

Editor-in-chief David Bruce contributed to this article.

Contact Valerie Myers at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ETNmyers.

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