Members of the Greater Latrobe School Board are expected to decide next week on the district’s instructional model.

Greater Latrobe superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert said during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting that the district’s health and safety committee met on Jan. 7 to discuss the best instructional model to implement for students while navigating the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It was decided at the Jan. 7 meeting that the district’s newly-formed health and safety committee, which includes board members, administrators and local medical advisors, opted to reconvene Monday, Jan. 18, and further discuss the most appropriate instructional model moving forward. The school board is scheduled to hold its regular meeting the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 19, prior to the health and safety committee’s next meeting.

“(Meeting again) will allow the committee to have a full two weeks of post-holiday COVID-related data to assess in order to determine the extent, if any, of the post-holiday surge of COVID-related illnesses,” Teppert said, adding that Friday marks the second week after the New Year’s Day holiday.

“The board of education will review the health and safety committee’s recommendation from the Jan. 18 meeting at the regular board meeting next Tuesday and determine at that time if our instructional model should be modified to include time in a brick-and-mortar setting for our students.”

Teppert said that any change in Greater Latrobe’s instructional model at next Tuesday’s meeting will go into effect beginning Monday, Jan. 25, giving parents time to plan accordingly. All students will currently remain in Greater Latrobe’s full online instructional model through Friday, Jan. 22. Teppert said that there is currently a letter posted on the district’s website outlining the timeline.

“As we continue to navigate this global pandemic, we are aware that students greatly benefit from face-to-face instruction and social interaction while continuing to build positive relationships with their teachers,” Teppert said. “The Greater Latrobe School District will continue to do the very best to provide the opportunity for brick-and-mortar instruction while keeping the health, safety and welfare of our entire school community as a priority.”

The school board, on Dec. 1, decided to switch district students to a full remote instructional model until Jan. 18. District officials said at the time that the move allowed for the best continuity of education for students, while maintaining health and safety of the entire school community and also adhering to state guidelines for travel during the holiday season.

Last month, the board approved the addition of the health and safety committee to the list of school board committees. Board member Dr. Michael Zorch, a retired emergency room physician, chairs the health and safety committee, while directors Steven LoCascio, Paul McCommons and Merle Musick also serve. Members of the medical team include Christina Armanious, Thomas Maroon, William Jenkins and Steven Mills.

Teppert noted that during the meeting on Jan. 7, all members agreed that in-person instruction is “by far” the best instructional model for students, however, concerns were raised by the medical team and the health and safety committee regarding rapidly increasing rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within the county.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came out recommending all children go back to school,” Zorch said. “We are, however, in a substantial rate of transmission in our county, which has overwhelmed our hospital system and caused a lot of crises with taking care of sick patients.

“I think the kids need to be back in school, but right now we’re concerned about the whole community, which is why the recommendation was made the way it was.”

Zorch added that a committee concern centered around community virus transmission and what he termed “yo-yoing” students back and forth between opening and closing schools.

“We don’t want to get kids in a situation where we put them in school and then a few days later, we shut it down again,” Zorch said. “That’s our concern right now.”

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