Gov. Tom Wolf

Governor Tom Wolf speaks at a press conference.

TIOGA COUNTY — All K-12 Pennsylvania schools will be closed until Monday, March 30, Governor Tom Wolf announced just after 3 p.m. on Friday, March 13, as the number of coronavirus cases in the Commonwealth continue to grow.

Pennsylvania has 63 confirmed cases as of 7:30 a.m. Monday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website. There are no confirmed cases in Tioga, Bradford, Potter or McKean counties, at that time.

“We understand that these are trying times and recognize the impact of the coronavirus on our students and communities. First and foremost, my top priority as governor – and that of our education leaders – must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities,” Wolf said. “As such, I am ordering that all schools in the commonwealth close for the next two weeks.”

“The Wolf Administration will continue to monitor Covid-19 in the commonwealth, and at the end of 10 days will reevaluate and decide whether continued closure is needed,” the press release stated.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Friday that it received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure.

Dr. Brenda Freeman, superintendent of the Wellsboro Area School District, said the district was working on a meal plan. According to the district’s Facebook page, the district will provide free grab-and-go lunches to any school district students from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at the Wellsboro Fire Hall Annex, 21 East Ave., Wellsboro, during this 10-day closure. Students will be offered two days’ worth of lunches each visit. Additional days will be added based on need; students do not need their lunch number to participate, the post states.

Sam Rotella, superintendent of the Southern Tioga School District, and Alanna Huck, superintednet of Galeton Area School District, both said their districts are working to implement a plan to provide meals for students.

It’s too soon for many school districts to know what the remainder of the school year will look like. Districts will not be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements, Wolf said.

“We are waiting for clarification on days to be made up,” Freeman said. The Wellsboro School District does not have plans for online learning during the two week period, as the area doesn’t have the capability, Freeman said.

Rotella said the district is looking to apply for a waiver for these days.

“We would likely apply for a waiver for these days,” Rotella said. “We are not considering moving to an online platform as that can be a challenge for our K-6 population, lack of devices at K-6, lack of consistent connectivity in our region and other factors.”

Galeton is waiting for more guidance from the Department of Education on how to handle the days missed.

“At this time, we are looking at all options which may include some online learning,” Huck said. “It is important to remember that not all students in my district have internet or cell service at their homes.”

While a lot of things are still undecided at this time, Freeman said the impact on learning is always a concern. What the nation is experiencing is an unprecedented environment nationally, Freeman said.

“This not only impacts learning, but our social economics overall. While we have been proactive in our short-term planning, the velocity of change will determine how we respond going forward,” Freeman said.

Huck said any break will impact the progress and learning.

“Any break from school affects the continuity of the progress that students are making. Schools are based heavily on routine and the students who attend are accustomed to that routine. Any significant amount of time will have an effect on learning,” Huck said. “It is hard to plan equitable lessons for all students when not everyone has the same capability to access those lessons at home. It is important to use common sense when planning for students to complete work at home.”

Rotella said though it will have an impact on the students’ learning, it is everyone’s social responsibility to do what they can to help stop the spread of the virus.

“It will have an impact on learning, and is being balanced against the pandemic and what is good for the greater community as a whole. The decision by the governor to close is based on mitigating the spread across our state, I feel like it is our social responsibility to do what we can to assist in that mitigation,” Rotella said.

Only essential staff will report to work, Freeman and Rotella said. Huck said the teachers will have a meeting on Tuesday. All extracurricular activities have been canceled. Huck and Rotella said, at this time, everyone is being paid.

“Our custodial staff will conduct a deep cleaning of our buildings. All district office personnel have access to our network from home and will carry out normal duties,” Freeman said. “Teachers and administrators have access to Google education tools which allow for communication and collaboration.”

Though it’s an uneasy time with a lot happening at once, Freeman said the Wellsboro community has been very supportive.

“Many individuals, businesses, clergy and our state Representative, Clint Owlett, have reached out to offer assistance. Our school board members are equally supportive of the measures we are taking to assure that our district complies with every measure to keep our students, families and community safe and informed,” Freeman said.

This article will be updated online at tiogapublishing.com as things develop.