District concerns over the current Coronavirus case numbers

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Louise Bennett

Kurt Cessna’s sixth period Study Hall practices social distancing in the Cafeteria.

As Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania rise, Punxsutawney Area School District’s administration and staff are left to figure out how to move forward with the school year while keeping everyone safe.

The vice principal of the elementary school Sheena Smelko said she thinks the Elementary School has been handling the Coronavirus “very well thus far.”

“Our students and staff have all been working together to ensure everyone’s safety and have been doing a wonderful job wearing their masks/face coverings and following the social distancing guidelines,” Smelko said, adding that her concern is that students, staff, and the community stays healthy.

She said she does not have reservations about the school staying open at this time because the district is constantly working to evaluate the COVID-19 situation in our district.

Smelko also said that it is important to remind students, staff, and parents to continue to follow the guidelines that they have been provided with to avoid a potential COVID-19 outbreak at any time.

High school principal Jeff Long said the general case count is concerning to him, but he believes that the district has a “good system” in place, including sending letters out to the community about exposures in our district.

“Dr. Lesniewski has been very good about it, as soon as it comes out, we have another letter for the community about how many people are quarantined without violating anybody’s privacy,” Long said, continuing that it allows community members to stay well informed about whether they are still comfortable sending their students to school.

Although Long said he believes that face to face education is more effective than a cyber or virtual education, he also believes that it is a personal decision on whether or not parents decide to send their children to school.

On the idea of an impending shut down, Long said that it would be much different than the shutdown in March because the school district would “march on with education.”

Superintendent of Punxsutawney School District Thomas Lesniewski said he has one important message for the students.

“Keep your hands clean and sanitized, and if you don’t feel good, stay home,” Lesniewski said, adding this is just one of the precautions students can take to keep themselves and others safe.

He said that everyone within the Punxsutawney organization is doing a fantastic job, wearing their masks and trying to be respectful of other people.
He said back in September three or four cases in our county was an average week, but now it’s more. If you look at the numbers within Pennsylvania and the counties surrounding Jefferson county, Lesniewski said COVID-19 cases have been “going crazy” everywhere in our area.

Although the cases as rises, Lesniewski said the school district does not have a threshold of cases that would cause the school to shut down, and it is a local decision to shut down schools if they were to be.

“It is our local school board’s decision,” Lesniewski said. “I check the cases daily and keep the school board up to date with the number of cases within our district and community.”

He said the school district does not have a certain threshold of cases that will cause the school to shut down.

He said they are monitoring the numbers very closely on a daily basis and making goals for keeping the school up and running.

“The goals are going to be somewhat short term. It’s always good to get through to Friday, and we will worry about Monday next week,” Lesniewski said, adding that his main goal is to keep students safe with the help of the staff at each building.

“I can’t praid the District Administrative team or school nurses or teaching staff enough,” Lesniewski said. “We’re trying to make the best situation possible for the students to keep their education moving forward.” He said that comes with challenges, but the school district is handling them to the best of their ability to keep education in person.

As of Wednesday, December 16th, the elementary school had one positive case, the high school had six positive cases, and the central office had zero positive cases.*

As of Friday, December 18th, the elementary school had 51 students, six teachers, and three support staff quarantined. The high school had 58 students, zero teachers, and two support staff quarantined.*

*Note: These numbers change on a day to day basis.