Mandatory pandemic quarantines continued apace this fall for Mechanicsburg-area school district students and staff, according to numbers presented to the district school board this week.
At the school board meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Mark Leidy said the district issued 450 out-of-school quarantines from Aug. 31 through Dec. 1 due to reported exposures to COVID-19. Of these, 428 of the December 1 quarantine cases involved students in the district. The rest were staff members.
Leidy said he was concerned about the district’s quarantine numbers and wanted to see the state Department of Health change its basis for enforcing school quarantines. Leidy said he and other superintendents from the Capital Region’s Intermediate Unit Districts have joined a CAIU-led coalition for this purpose.
“Right now it’s based on how close a person is to another person who is (COVID-19) positive,” Leidy said. “We are trying to get the state to move it from a close contact quarantine base to a symptomatic quarantine base. In other words, a person would not be required to quarantine unless they have symptoms.
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Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Leidy said the district would maintain a school masking mandate until the next holiday break despite a few parents speaking out against the mandate during the meeting’s public comment session.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Nov. 10 Commonwealth Court ruling that the mask mandate for schools issued by Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam was not valid. This ruling pushes the decision to individual school districts.
Judges upheld a Commonwealth Court ruling that Beam had no authority to require masks, failed to follow state laws on issuing regulations and acted without an emergency in the event required existing disaster declared by the incumbent governor.
Leidy said he has not decided whether to continue the district’s school mask mandate when students return to school in January, but will continue to monitor conditions in the area during the upcoming break. Families will be notified of the district’s masking status before schools reopen, he said.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that all counties in Pennsylvania have “high” transmission of COVID-19.
In separate action, the Mechanicsburg Area School Board on Tuesday approved a Bill 1 resolution that prevents the district from raising taxes beyond 4.27% for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the index set by the state Department of Education.
The district last raised property taxes by 3.6% in 2021-22, reaching its full state index for the current fiscal year July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. The district’s current tax levy is 14.6654 mils. Due to the 3.6% hike, the owner of a property valued at $189,000 saw their 2021-22 tax bill rise by $96 to $2,771.
High school renovation
Also on Tuesday, the school board authorized architects Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates to move forward with detailed designs for the high school renovation. Previous designs were considered “conceptual plans” with limited detail, district business administrator Greg Longwell said this week.
The project is expected to meet the infrastructure and mechanical needs of the secondary school, as well as the secondary program needs of the district. Longwell said he expects the architects to come back with new plans to review this spring.
The renovation project is considered separate from a high school expansion project currently under construction.