CLARION - To go remote or not has been a question plaguing school districts in Clarion County since the number of COVID-19 cases has increased in recent weeks.

Count Clarion Area among the districts which will be staying with face-to-face, in-person learning for now.

However, the board's feelings on the issue are not unanimous.

Clarion board member Braxton White, attending last week's meeting remotely from his home, urged the rest of the board to consider switching the high school to fully-remote learning or a hybrid model.

White pointed out the school district should be proactive in its approach to handling the COVID-19 outbreaks in the region.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends school districts go to fully remote learning if the district's home county stays in the substantial range for two weeks or more.

Clarion County has since the meeting reached the two-week "substantial" status.

"My thought here is the guidelines put in place weren't done by the Department of Education alone, that was created hand in hand with the Department of Health," White said. "How long can we say we are working with the Department of Health when we are ignoring the guidelines they put together with the Department of Education?"

Board member Todd Macbeth disagreed with White's assessment.

"It doesn't seem to me like we are ignoring anything," Macbeth said. "I think we are using our local data and applying that to our decision making."

White responded, "I think our local data shows we have a good argument to keep our elementary school open but it's hard for me not to recommend our high school take a break like Keystone is, like A-C Valley is when we consider how much the cases are growing in the county, when we consider this isn't just a decision for us, it is a public health decision when we have one small hospital in this county of ours.

"The hospital incidents rates lag the data, the death rates lag the data, hopefully it doesn't get to that but two or three weeks down the road, we are going to wish that we would have made those decisions now to be proactive instead of reactive."

(Since the Clarion Area School Board session, both ACV and keystone have announced classes at both the elementary and high school levels will be "remote" through at least Dec. 1)

Macbeth said he believes having just two infected students in the high school did not warrant going remote.

White doubled-down on his assessment of the situation.

"We are going against the guidelines of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Health," White said. "This isn't the spring when we probably didn't need to shut down. We didn't have an outbreak in Clarion County yet. We haven't had one but we are in one now," White said. "All these other schools around us are making the tough decision to (go remote)."

White continued, "We have guidelines in front of us which map this out very clearly and we are ignoring them."

The Pennsylvania Department of Health moved Clarion County into the "substantial" infection category on Nov. 9. If the county stays in the substantial category for two weeks, the Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends the districts in the county switch to either a full remote or hybrid model.

Board member Zachary Shekell questioned whether the state guidelines should be the lone factor in the decision-making process.

"(Superintendent Carrico) had a meeting with the PDE and they set forth a number of community factors we are to consider specifically as our local district and those guidelines you are referencing are not the only deciding factor for us to consider," Shekell replied to White.

Board member Sara Robertson inquired of Macbeth as to what the rate of infection needs to be to switch to remote learning.

"I don't know what that number (of infection) would be going up but I know what that number is," Macbeth said. "Having two kids infected is not worth sacrificing the mental health of our kids. Our high school kids are experiencing some significant issues and I know that. I feel badly for those two students that have (COVID-19) but to me, that is not enough to put the hardship on the students in the school to shut it down."

The board plans to reassess the situation at its regular board session following its reorganization meeting on Dec. 1.

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