Mars Area School District is preparing for an in-person return to school.
The district has been conducting virtual learning since around Thanksgiving.
Superintendent Mark Gross said school leaders decided to be proactive and get ahead of an anticipated COVID-19 case spike heading into the winter holidays.
“We made a very good decision,” Gross said during Tuesday night's school board meeting. “We had quite a few people in quarantine.”
Gross said that had the district not moved to a virtual learning platform, it may have been difficult to have enough staff to keep school buildings open.
Students have been learning through livestream interactive (LSI) learning and Mars Area Cyber Academy. Now, district officials are preparing for an in-person return, despite the community having a “substantial” transmission rate.
“Students need us,” Gross said. “Our kids need us.”
Gross said the district is planning to allow students to return to school buildings starting Monday.
To do this, the district must comply with the state's face-covering mandate and follow state recommendations when reacting to positive cases.
For instance, Centennial School will need to temporarily close for cleaning if there are two or more positive cases because of a smaller student population. The closure would mean no one aside from cleaning staff would be able to enter the building during those school days.
Specifics will be detailed by the district for each school.
Gross said he's received correspondence from parents on both sides of the issue when it comes to closing school buildings. Despite pandemic data, Gross said the situation remains “polarizing.”
“There is a pandemic,” Gross said. “We absolutely will not debate the fact that the pandemic is real.”
Gross said the district continues paying attention to local and state case data. He encourages families who don't feel comfortable sending their children to school to continue using the LSI option.
Still, Gross said, it's important to provide an in-person option for those students who will use it.
“We are not going to be reckless,” Gross said. “We are not going to do this to prove a point.”
Julia Konitzky, who has a child attending school in-person to help with special education needs, thanked Gross and the district's pandemic team for leading the district in reopening school buildings.
“I really appreciate getting these kids back to school, you know, for mental health (reasons),” Konitzky said.
Details about returning to school will be shared with the district community this week.