Greater Johnstown, Blacklick Valley and Central Cambria school districts have joined a growing list of area institutions to announce a delay of the next academic year.

Students at the schools will now start on Sept. 8 instead of late August because of new guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and state department of health.

The information recommends schools in counties that have a “moderate” level of coronavirus transmission, which is defined as a 5 to 10% positivity rate or having 10 to 100 cases per 100,000 citizens during the most recent seven days, implement hybrid instruction or online learning.

Greater Johnstown administrators decided to move back the first day in order to review all the data and determine the best option for reopening the district.

“They (the school board) felt that it would be in our best interest that we were developing our reopening plan based on data we could look at over time,” Superintendent Amy Arcurio said.

Throughout the next few weeks, administrators will monitor Cambria County’s COVID-19 numbers and make a decision about reopening then.

If the county remains in the “moderate risk” area, Arcurio said the district would then consider returning with a hybrid form of education. 

Blacklick Valley and Central Cambria are implementing hybrid methods out of the gate, citing the guidance from state leaders as the reason.

Both are developing an alternating schedule for students split into two groups.

William Kanich, Blacklick’s superintendent, said building principals were "working to divide students in the best way possible to reduce class sizes” and those from the same household will be put together.

Students in “Group A” will attend class in person on Mondays and Tuesdays while those in “Group B” will go on Thursdays and Fridays.

Wednesdays will be used as virtual learning days for everyone through Google Classroom.

“We are going to run our hybrid schedule for the first marking period to provide stability to our students, their families and teachers,” Kanich said.

Central Cambria is following an alphabetical system to divide the students, according to a letter from Superintendent Jason Moore.

Anyone with a last name beginning with “A-K” is scheduled to attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesday.

Those with last names beginning with “L-Z” will have face-to-face classes on Thursdays and Fridays.

The groups will alternate attendance on Wednesdays with the “A-K” students going on the first Wednesday of the school year and the “L-Z” attending on the second.

Additionally, there will be a two-hour early dismissal on Wednesdays to allow for a deep cleaning of the facilities and for teachers to prepare virtual instruction.

The previously decided upon early dismissal on Fridays will no longer take place.

“Please know that we understand your frustration with this situation and will do our absolute best to get you the updated plans as soon as possible,” Moore said in the letter.

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

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