FRILLS CORNERS - Originally, North Clarion School District officials hoped to reopen its schools for in-person learning before the holiday break at the end of December but the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the district administrators and the school board to rethink their timeline.

The board chose to continue remote learning for the foreseeable future for both the elementary and high school students at the board's emergency meeting held virtually Nov. 24.

The high school has been on remote learning since Nov. 3 when four students tested positive for COVID-19 in a three day period.

The district's elementary school went full remote a short time later after a person in the elementary building tested positive.

Originally, the district wanted to return to in-person learning when instruction resumes after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

However, an increase in COVID-19 cases in Clarion County made the district rethink its reopening plan.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has recommended if a district's home county is in the "substantial" infection rate for two weeks that the district switch to remote learning.

Clarion County has landed in the "substantial" category for the past three weeks.

The PDE recommendation for schools to return to in-person learning is that the district's home county be in the "moderate" infection rate for two consecutive weeks.

The district plans to revisit its reopening plan at the board's reorganization meeting to be held Dec. 3.

According to North Clarion Superintendent Steve Young, one of his biggest concerns is with continuity of education if the school keeps switching between virtual and in-person learning.

Young said he believes North Clarion students are getting comfortable with the virtual learning after some early challenges.

Young also alerted the board the district received an email from PDE that the school has to inform PDE whether the district is in full remote or in-person instruction.

Additionally, PDE wants the district to attest to the new mandates from the Pennsylvania Department of Health released Nov. 20 regarding mask wearing and social distancing.

Young does believe the district should think about returning to in-person learning for the elementary school, especially the kindergarten through third grade students.

"We haven't had the case numbers in the elementary school we had in the high school and the elementary students don't do as well with the remote learning as the high school students," Young said. "I think we have to get those K through third grade kids back in the building. However, if we bring back those elementary students, I have to inform the PDE we are no longer in full remote and we would be put on their list but I would be willing to do that if it helps our kids."

The PDE has also informed schools that they can hold extracurricular activities at the school building after regular school hours as long as the students wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Young said he believes holding extracurricular activities at the school will give the students a sense of normalcy.

North Clarion extracurricular activities affected by the PDE decision are the robotics team, the Academic Sports League, Drama Club, and boys' and girls' basketball.

Both the North Clarion boys' varsity basketball head coach Ewing Moussa and girls' basketball head coach Terry Dreihaup want to form a practice bubble for their players.

The bubble would allow players to only take part in basketball activities at sanctioned high school practices.

As it stands now, players are taking part in pickup games and workouts at the Clarion YMCA and at playgrounds around the area.