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In the 48 hours preceding the writing of this column, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reports there were 9,797 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. Statewide records have been set over the last two weeks.

Here in Lebanon County our positive cases reached 5,386. That represents a jump from 1,361 in July of this year, just five months ago. These numbers amount to an increase of nearly four times as many cases over the same time period. 

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Read More: Lebanon County daily COVID-19 tracker

Without doubt, these alarming numbers represent a serious health crisis that is not only impacting our lives but also our children and their school.

With more students and staff testing positive and getting sick school administrators and school boards are forced to choose between online instruction, in-person, or a blend of both, known as hybrid. As cases go up, school districts are forced to decide if the situation dictates a shift from in-person classes or a hybrid system to totally online classes. The term virtual instruction is often used in place of the term online classes.

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These are difficult decisions forced upon both school superintendents and school boards. These critical decisions forced upon our school leaders places them in the uncomfortable position of making life and death health policy decisions. The core mission of school leaders is to set educational policies not life and death health policies. It is indeed unwise for our Governor and General Assembly to place this type of decision on the shoulders of our school leaders. 

Our county school leaders are also left to make these decisions without the help of a county heath department. Lebanon County does not have a county health department and it is sorely needed to help make these critical health policy decisions. When this crisis is over, it would be advisable for the Lebanon County Commissioners to initiate a county health department in anticipation of any future pandemics.

As the number of overall school cases escalates, it is likely that even one or two students that test positive for coronavirus, in the course of one school day, could have direct contact with 12 or more teachers and staff members. If all 12 staff members are then forced to quarantine the result could be the inability of the school to function effectively, thereby the missing staff members often forces the entire school to shift from in-person classes to virtual online classes.

In the end there are a great many lessons to be learned from this pandemic. First, we need to learn that a health crisis that involves life and death decisions regarding our school children requires an all hands on deck approach in terms of making these critical decisions. The Governor and General Assembly need to work together in making these critical health policy decisions and not push the responsibility on local school boards. Second, in the case of Lebanon County, we need an effective county health department staffed with the type of medical professionals that would be critical in mitigating any future pandemic.

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Robert Griffiths is a former educator and Cornwall-Lebanon School District board member and a current educational consultant and . He lives in South Lebanon.

Read previous columns from Robert Griffiths on returning to school

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Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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