Richland School District administrators review the COVID-19 statistics for the area daily, Pandemic Response Coordinator and Director of Educational Services Brandon Bailey said.

After looking over the numbers Thursday, the group made the decision to move fourth- through 12th-graders to hybrid instruction for at least the rest of November.

"It is our hope to be back by Dec. 1, if the substantial rating goes down," Superintendent Arnold Nadonley said.

For the past two months, Cambria County has been listed in the "moderate" category on the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Level of Community Transmission Table.

But the county moved to the "substantial" category at the end of October due to a rise in cases of the disease – which accompanies a recommendation that schools transition to fully remote learning.

Cambria had 1,410 cases and has recorded 12 deaths, according to the Thursday report from the state department of health.

That case count reflects an increase of nearly 250 in the past week. Cambria has added three virus-related deaths since Oct. 31.

The shift in category and increases in cases, deaths and hospitalizations all contributed to the decision to move into a hybrid educational plan, Bailey said.

"This is really data-driven," he added.

The affected students will attend in-person classes every other day on a previously designated "red" and "blue" schedule.

A calendar detailing the alternating days through Jan. 1 can be found on Richland's website, www.richlandsd.com.

During virtual days, learning will be asynchronous and taught by the teachers.

'Need to be cautious'

Nadonley and Bailey both said they would rather have the learners in school safely rather than learning online any day.

"We just need to be cautious," Nadonley said. "The safety and education of the kids is our first priority."

Students in kindergarten through third grade will face no changes to their schedules because these classes are self-contained, which limits interactions with other members of the school.

Those uncomfortable with hybrid learning also have the option to continue their education remotely.

Meals will continue to be provided Monday through Thursday at the schools and pick-up is available as well.

Parents may contact the district for more information about these options.

Additionally, extracurricular activities and events with crowd limitations will continue, a release from the district said.

Updates will be provided on Fridays regarding the next week's instructional method if it were to change.

Nadonley stressed that there are no additional cases of the virus in the schools at this time.

Westmont 'preparing' 

Rumors of a Westmont Hilltop School District closure swirled on Thursday as well, but an afternoon message from Superintendent Thomas Mitchell addressed that question.

"At this moment, we are not closing our schools or changing our instructional model," Mitchell said in the release. "The district's COVID-19 task force continues to monitor the community and local infection rate to implement the learning model that best serves our students and staff."

He added that students are being asked to take their devices home each night and teachers are sending materials with them because the district is "actively preparing for a potential school closure."

All Westmont families are encouraged to prepare for such an event.

"I realize the uncertainty is difficult for families and we will work to provide as much notice as possible if a change is required," Mitchell said.

As of Thursday, Westmont had seven elementary and nine high school students and staff in quarantine, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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