COVID-19 continues to impact BAHS

Evan Culter, Staff Reporter

With the use of a block day schedule, social distancing guidelines, mask mandates, multi-level dismissals, and the introduction of virtual learning environments, the pandemic caused a number of changes to the school environment throughout the 2020-21 school year. Now, at the beginning of a new school year, guidelines, recommendations, and school procedures continue to fluctuate frequently. This impacts schools throughout the country and Pennsylvania, including Bellefonte Area School District. 

   Throughout last school year, BAHS utilized a block schedule to limit the amount of people that came into contact with each other each day. That is no longer the case with this year. BAHS has returned to the regular schedule. 

Another factor that changed from last year to this year is guidelines for ventilation in school buildings. The ventilation systems were replaced last year in both the high school and middle school, as a mitigation/prevention strategy recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This was stated in the August 18, 2021 BASD Parent, Family, Staff letter released by Superintendent Tammie Burnaford. 

“We had a particular focus on improving ventilation in our classrooms throughout the district last year, and this will continue into this year,” she wrote. 

Another thing that will stay the same from last year are the regular cleanings of school buildings.

One of the most significant changes in policy from last year into this year is contact tracing. Last year, if a student or member of staff  was in contact within six feet of another that had COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more they would be quarantined for two weeks. But this year,  new variables, such as vaccination status, have been put into effect and have complicated if and how long a student should quarantine. Now, if both a student who is infected and the person in contact both wear masks, the person who was contacted does not have to be quarantined. This only is directed towards the students, not staff. 

“… the quarantine rules are very different from last year, and they are very confusing,” Superintendent Mrs. Burnaford included in the August 18 letter. 

Yet another change from last year to this year are the dismissals to the buses after school. Last year, there were three dismissal bells at the high school; one at 3:05 p.m., another at 3:10 p.m., and a final one at 3:15p.m. Now, dismissal time is  back to how it was before 2020, with just one bell at 3:15 p.m. that dismisses every student at the high school.  

Another change from last year into this year is remote learning options for students. Last year, students had three options. Students could go back to school physically full time. They could also use a cyberschool program called the Bellefonte E-Learning Academy, or BeLa for short. The third option was that  students could come to school only two days a week while going to school through using Google Meets the rest of the time. This year there are only two options; full BeLa or go fully back to school. Quarantines will stay the same from last year to this year. When students are quarantined, they have the option of attending classes through Google Meets.  

The last major change from last year to this year is the mask mandate. Last year, masks were mandated for all students and staff while on school property. The only exception was if there was a medical factor that could make it significantly harder for someone to wear a mask. 

There have been complications with masks this year. At the start of the year, parents were to decide if their child would wear a mask. The only place where masks were required was public transportation such as school buses. This was the case until Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced on August 31 that masks would be required for all indoor public and private schools starting September 7. The mandate will be re-evaluated in October.  This requires students and staff to wear masks for both indoors and in public transportation. This decision has been controversial, and caused significant backlash and dispute from and between members of the community. Mrs. Burnaford hopes that the community can unite under for the safety of the students. 

“One of our greatest successes from last year was the partnerships that we formed with parents/guardians, staff, and students,” Superintendent Mrs. Burnaford said in her August 30 BASD Parent, Family, Staff Letter.