As Local Cases Rise, Full-Time Instruction Debate Goes On

TAHS+has+seen+the+number+of+students+enrolled+in+cyber+programs+increase+since+students+have+returned+to+full+time+in+school+instruction.

Todd Cammarata

TAHS has seen the number of students enrolled in cyber programs increase since students have returned to full time in school instruction.

Tyrone High School students returned to classes full-time on October 19, but as COVID-19 cases have risen across the country, state, and county, many students and teachers still have concerns.

“I think that it’s not the best idea [to go full time right now] because we are getting to the peak of flu season. It will be hard to distinguish the common cold from the coronavirus and will cause unneeded worry,” senior Dean Grassi said.

Cases in Blair, Centre, and Huntingdon Counties have all been on the rise in recent weeks.

Blair County, where the majority of Tyrone Area School District students live, added 223 new positive COVID cases over the weekend, compared to 91 for Centre, and 48 for Huntingdon.

To be honest, I don’t think it is a good idea for me to comment on the school opening. It is such a touchy subject and everyone has their opinions, albeit very strong ones too. I appreciate being asked for my input. I think I will politely decline any comments at this time”

— A Tyrone Teacher

Blair’s positive test rate is 5.6%, while Centre and Huntingdon Counties are both at 6.1%. Blair’s incidence rate for last week, which is the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, was 134, Centre’s was 175, and Huntingdon was 103.

All those numbers exceed the state’s official threshold of concern, which is 5% positivity and an incidence rate of 50 or above.

As a result, some local school districts that reopened for in-person instruction have gone back to online-only, including Hollidaysburg and Huntingdon.

With one confirmed case in the Tyrone Elementary School and one in the high school, having full-time instruction is still a controversial topic at the high school.

The high school’s first positive case was very disruptive to several classes throughout high school, with many students and at least one teacher being sent home to quarantine.

Many teachers interviewed for this story said they were concerned about having all the students back, but most did not want to speak about it on the record.

One teacher who was asked to comment had this to say:

“To be honest, I don’t think it is a good idea for me to comment on the school opening. It is such a touchy subject and everyone has their opinions, albeit very strong ones too. I appreciate being asked for my input. I think I will politely decline any comments at this time,” said a TAHS teacher via email.

So far, no teachers at the high school have resigned or taken a leave of absence since the full-time schedule was implemented, but at least two teachers were considering this due to their own preexisting conditions or those of loved ones.

Even some teachers who haven’t considered leaving are concerned by the increased crowds in the hallways and classrooms, as well as compliance with mask guidelines.

“I am concerned about the level of compliance regarding proper mask-wearing along with the challenge of not being able to physically distance in all of my classes and the consequences this will have on the overall physical and mental health of our entire school,” said business teacher Rachel Litzinger.

However, even teachers like Litzinger who are concerned were also frustrated with the hybrid schedule and are happy to have all their students back.

“But I am happy that I get to be with my students every day and have a more consistent schedule,” added Litzinger.

All agreed that the hybrid schedule was not as effective as full-time instruction.

“Look how hard [the hybrid schedule] was. We have a review on Tuesday, and a week later we have the test,” said physics teacher Bryan Gruber.

Before the transition to full-time instruction, the Eagle Eye surveyed students and found them to be split almost evenly on whether the school should be back.

I switched to cyber school because more people seem to be getting COVID and I think it’s safer. I also don’t have to worry about the school shutting down since I already do my work at home”

— Logan Smyth

Many of those who are willing to speak out publicly either have a preexisting condition or are close to someone who does.

“As someone with type one diabetes, I am classified as ‘high risk.’ As much as I value my education, I don’t want to have to put my life on the line every time I walk into school… I’m concerned about how lunches will be run, as we already don’t follow social distancing rules or wear masks at the lunch table,” says senior Garret Martin.

Dozens of Tyrone students have transitioned to full-time online instruction in recent weeks. Tyrone’s cyber program currently has over 60 students enrolled and others have left for accredited cyber schools outside the district in recent weeks.

“I switched to cyber school because more people seem to be getting COVID and I think it’s safer. I also don’t have to worry about the school shutting down since I already do my work at home,” said freshman Logan Smyth.

Most agree that there are no easy answers. Students and faculty are hopeful that the board and administration are doing the right thing and will continue to put the health of the community first.

“[The administration] is trying to do the right thing trying to go back to normal. They can always change back,” said Gruber.

Globally there are currently 46.6 million cases of COVD-19 and 1.12 million deaths. In the United States, over 231,000 people have died. According to the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the total cases in the state are above 214,000 with over 1,000 cases being added daily.