With Bradford schools returning to in-person instruction on Monday, Superintendent Katy Pude addressed the decision at Monday evening’s school board meeting.

The COVID-19 case count rose in the area after the holidays. In contrast, the case count in the Bradford school district was worse before Thanksgiving than it is now.

She explained that before Thanksgiving, teachers were catching COVID-19 from other teachers, and the district was unable to sustain in-person learning.

They intended to keep learning online until McKean County’s risk dropped from substantial to moderate for two weeks; however, one of the criteria for moderate — having a positivity rate below 10% — was difficult to achieve due to the area not being able to test as many students as other places.

The positivity rate “will probably stay high for quite some time,” said Pude.

She noted that students with complex learning needs were able to come back a little sooner to adjust before all the students returned. The 21st Century program has not yet returned to the elementary schools.

Pude added that in a conference with state officials on Friday, schools were encouraged to bring elementary students back to in-person learning.

There is a chart on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website, based on a rolling 14-day average of cases, if schools need to move any buildings to online learning. These temporary closures can last from three to 14 days, and the Bradford district is considered a midsize district on the chart.

Pude said the district is not going to collect its laptops from students at this time in case they need to move to virtual learning.

She also announced that there are new requirements for face shields: shields must have no gaps. She said the schools do have shields they can give students, if they are needed.

In response to a question from a parent who asked if students with complex learning needs would be able to continue in-person learning if their building is closed, Pude said it is her understanding that if a building closes, it would be to all students. However, she added that she would revisit the possibility of bringing such students back sooner than the general student body.

As for school sports, Athletic Director Mike Erickson said many Bradford teams have games scheduled for this week and next. The state had shutdown extracurricular activities between Dec. 12 and Jan. 4.

Swimmers will compete this Thursday, cheerleaders and boys basketball will have their senior night game Friday, girls basketball will have a game Saturday and their senior night game Jan. 19, and there will be a middle school basketball game Jan. 18.

For this year only, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has modified its rule of 15 mandatory practices before the first competition by allowing schools to compete after 10 practices.

While sports are currently happening, “We’ve made it known to all athletes there are no guarantees moving forward,” Erickson noted.

Pude noted that, unlike fall sports, students playing winter sports will be required to wear masks, and Bradford will not play against any school district that does not agree to wear masks.

She added that sports events will be livestreamed, and no outside visitors will be allowed at sporting events. Each student athlete will receive two tickets for their own parents, and on senior night, each senior will receive four tickets.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the school district celebrated School Directors Recognition Month.

The following performances/presentations were made to honor the board: a video with photographs of students from George G. Blaisdell and School Street elementary schools; Gerrit Randall sang the national anthem; Timothy Mulcahy played the trombone; these students of Aimee Emerson’s library class at Floyd C. Fretz Middle School talked about their Passion Projects: Emmalyn Kemick, Daniel Marasco, Adilynn Brown and Marcus Terwilliger.

Pude also recognized the three winners of the annual Christmas card design contest: Regan Dillaman, Madison Sampson and Rylann Terwilliger, all fifth-graders. Each will receive a $25 gift certificate.

The school board passed a resolution saying there will be no increase in the rate of tax above the state index established by the Department of Education.

Director of Finance Judy Bodamer said the index was 4.5%. School Board President Shane Oschman asked Bodamer to clarify that the district is not passing a tax increase at this time.

Bodamer agreed, explaining this is something the district does in preparation so they “can follow the traditional timeline in following the 2020-21 budget. We are agreeing to keep any raise if necessary during the development of that index.”

Also, the board approved LERTA from the City of Bradford for 15 Congress Place.

Erin Waugaman, director of curriculum and instruction, said the district received its summer Keystone Exam results. The students did well enough in the algebra, literature and biology tests that this year’s class will not be required to pass a Keystone Exam to graduate.

Though the exams will not be required to graduate, the district will still give Keystone Exams from May 17-28.

A new acceleration policy was placed on the table for consideration by the school board, and the board is slated to vote on it in February.

Waugaman noted the team had “thoughtful conversations” on what qualifications students need to meet in order to accelerate.

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