Big Spring School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Fry issued a video update Friday for all district families outlining the district’s diligent efforts to keep buildings open as COVID cases soar in the community around it.
Fry noted that while Cumberland County has been in the substantial rate of spread for the virus for the past few weeks, district protocols have really helped to keep cases from spreading throughout the district.
Fry noted the time is coming for them to move to an all-virtual learning format, but as they entered the week of Thanksgiving, they were still keeping their current hybrid model in place. Fry said he feels because the district has been in the hybrid, Tier 2 model since school began in September, installed unilateral thermal scanning systems in each building and enforced the social distancing and masking requirements laid out by the CDC and Department of Health, these extra steps have allowed them to remain open since the beginning of September.
“Other districts who started the year in Tier 3 have had intermittent closures. We have not yet. Now our time may come. But what we have done as a community has kept us at a point where we still have the ability to have face-to-face. I’m proud of that, I’m thankful that as a community we have embraced that. Quite frankly, the challenge is greater now.”
He said the protocols the district has in place have kept the virus from spreading throughout district buildings.
“As of today, we have 42 individuals in quarantine across six buildings, of those 42, five are confirmed cases. Two at the high school, one at the middle school, one Oak Flat online learner and one at the district office. We are doing a great job so our intrarate is down, which gives us a little bit of flexibility as we look at the recommendations from the Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education of where we can be. I am very sensitive to what that data is showing us at the county level and zip code level with that incident rate and positivity rate. We balance that with each of our buildings, and we are comfortable starting in Tier 2 during the week of Thanksgiving.
We might have to go back to Tier 1 as the need arises, and we certainly will do that.”
Fry said confirmed cases are individuals with a positive laboratory test, suspected cases are asymptomatic individuals or those who have not had a confirmed case, and exposed individuals are those who have had close contact with a positive case, which is within 6 feet of that person for 15 minutes or more. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have had 60 suspected cases, 82 exposed and 21 confirmed.”
He added the district has 10 trained contact tracers who are in constant communication with the Department of Health.
He added the decision to close and revert to Tier 1, an all-virtual format, can come at any time. However, he assured families that the district is prepared to go all virtual, and added they are doing everything they can to keep children from falling behind academically.
“We’re not going to let kiddos fall behind. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
Fry said in his video update, which is posted on the district website: www.bigspringsd.org, Cumberland County is currently at an 11.1 percent positivity rate of 246.2 positive cases per 100,000 residents, the highest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic in March when data was first being collected.
He noted data is increasing across the board in the state, as well as the nation, which was expected.
Fry noted the positivity rates in Newville, Carlisle, Newburg and Shippensburg, and said there is an uptick in cases in the district’s service area.
“We are moving in a manner that makes us all very uneasy, very anxious, and we absolutely have to be diligent in that regard,” he said.
He said if the district moves to Tier 1, schedules will be modified accordingly. Students will experience live-streamed instructional blocks and subject changes, a defined lunch time, and relationship building and supportive exercises for students at the end of the day.
If the area experiences inclement weather this winter, the district will move to an all-virtual format in Tier 1 to keep the last day of school at June 10, and prevent an extension of the school year. Families will be alerted of schedule changes via BlackBoard Connect the night before or early that morning.
At the end of the video, Fry noted there are new mandates from the Department of Health regarding face coverings that the district must follow to help move things forward to more face-to-face instruction down the road. He said students must wear masks or face coverings at recess and gym class when social distancing is not possible, and during different athletic events. He said there will be exceptions for student-athletes that come from the PIAA, and any students participating in sports will be alerted of the changes. Fry also said face shields are no longer acceptable unless a student is exempt through an IEP, medical clearance or ADA.
“We are entering the most challenging time of this pandemic.
We cannot take any shortcuts. We are following all mandates.
We will have 10-minute mask breaks every hour. Indoor virtually stays the same, it’s the outdoor that changes. This will go into effect on Dec. 1 after Thanksgiving Break.”
Fry noted if any family must travel outside of the commonwealth for the holiday, they must do a 14-day quarantine before returning to school, or have a negative COVID test. Students and parents are to be in touch with their school nurse for guidelines once they return. Exceptions include travel for work, medical treatment or military assignment.
“We need to follow those protocols with face coverings and travel so we can move forward with more face-to-face offerings as time goes on,” he said. “I know the challenges are immense. I know there is a level of frustration. Please stay patient. Stay patient with us. Our only specific care is the health and wellbeing of your kiddos and our staff, and we are going to do whatever we need to do to make sure that people stay healthy. I want to thank you for your partnership and patience. We’ve got through this together, and we are going to continue to get through this together. We need to continue to be vigilant with our actions and our protocols. This will not only aid in keeping our buildings open, but at some point, help us return to what we all know and love public education to be. Our teachers want nothing more than to have a classroom full of kids sitting in front of them, I promise you that. But we will do that when it’s safe and the data tells us we can. We need to maintain open lines of communication.”
In conclusion, Fry noted how thankful he is to head one of the best districts in the state and nation, and urged all to remain “Ever. Always. Strong.”