Apr. 9—For the first time in more than a year, most Hazleton Area students can enter classrooms next week.
On Monday when the fourth quarter starts and 45 days remain in the school year, kindergartners and seniors can attend classes in person.
By Thursday, students in all other grades can join as the district phases in a return to school after closing classrooms for COVID-19.
Most Hazleton Area students haven't been inside classrooms since the pandemic shut Pennsylvania public schools on March 13, 2020.
Since then, a few hundred students, including preschoolers, seniors in vocational programs and students in special programs, went to classes in person from late September to Thanksgiving and again since March 22.
For the rest of the students in the district, which had an enrollment of 11,646 as of March 23, Superintendent Brian Uplinger staggered their return next week.
On Monday, seniors and kindergartners may attend along with students in early intervention, pre-kindergarten and classes for special education, autistic support, life skills and emotional support.
Juniors and students in grades one, two and three can join them in schools on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, sophomores may attend classes along with grades five and six.
Grades seven, eight and nine come back on Thursday.
Hazleton Area will reopen a week after Pennsylvania's Education Secretary Pedro Rivera encouraged schools to consider holding some classes in person, even in areas with substantial levels of COVID-19 cases.
The three counties Hazleton Area touches —Luzerne, Carbon and Schuylkill — had substantial levels of transmission last week, and Hazleton Area parents have the option of allowing their children to continue studying from home.
Uplinger expects about half of the students will attend in person.
Those who return will follow precautions that include wearing masks except at meals, staying 3 feet apart and not sharing supplies.
All schools will serve lunches and provide breakfasts that students can take with them.
On buses, students will wear masks, face forward and stay in seats assigned by drivers.
"Each morning, parents/guardians will need to verify that their children are free of symptoms of illness," Uplinger said in a letter.
If cases occur, any or all of the Hazleton Area's 13 schools might close again.
Uplinger said staff members in each school will trace contacts of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 but also inform the state Department of Health, which will determine how long anyone needs to quarantine.
He said Hazleton Area will follow procedures of the state departments of Health and Education and of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In procedures for schools updated on March 19, the CDC said 3 feet is OK instead of 6 feet between students and said ventilation is part of a strategy for clean facilities.
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