Many Pa. School Districts resist full-time virtual learning as COVID cases spike


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — As coronavirus cases continue to spike in counties across the state, many school districts are shifting to all-remote learning–but many schools are not.

In gentler times, schools spoke of the 3 Rs: reading, ritin’ and rithmetic. But in 2020, a four R can be added, reacting to a pandemic. Harrisburg schools have been all virtual since the start of the pandemic.

Harrisburg School District Superintendent Chris Celmer hoped to get kids back in class by early November, but he’s quickly learning that won’t be the case.

“Shortly thereafter, the numbers started progressively moving in the wrong direction and obviously over the last few weeks they’ve just exploded,” Celmer said.

Specifically, counties in “green” have moderate spikes in coronavirus, and in “yellow” regions the jump is substantial. “Red” counties have been substantial for more than three weeks.

Pa. Departments of Health and Education recommend that all schools in those counties go virtual full-time. However, many of those schools have not.

“It is unacceptable to ignore the advice of medical experts and health experts when it comes to the health and safety of students, of the people who work in schools,and people who work in the community […] it just just unacceptable,” Rich Askey, president of the statewide teacher’s union, said.

But remote learning mostly failed in the spring as students, teachers, and parents struggled to adapt to the academic changes. More recently, many say the educational dangers of closing schools is worse than the medical danger of getting COVID.

“Remote learning is a totally different thing than what it was in March. We have teachers doing totally amazing things,” Askey said.

The math and data are clear for many schools around the state. They should go fully virtual, but Celmer won’t criticize them for resisting.

“I would never point that finger because I’ve spoken with them and I know the difficult of making that decision,” Celmer said.

Askey is looking forward to the day when the COVID-19 pandemic is not affecting education.

“Some day this pandemic is gonna be over and hopefully that’s sooner rather than later, but we want tp make sure everybody is here to celebrate on that day,” Askey explains.

Governor Tom Wolf has resisted shutting down the state and schools again. But the number may leave him no choice.


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