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Mud flinging for firefighters

MONROETON – Mud flew and wheels spun under a hot sun Saturday as the 8th Annual Mountaineer Mud Bog revved into town with trucks, jeeps and more competing in Mountaineer Park to raise money for the Monroe Hose Company.

Chris Donovan, a volunteer firefighter and organizer of the Mountaineer Mud Bog, stated that the truck drivers were “itching” to get out and compete after many events have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19. He added that the the event continues to pride itself on being a family-friendly event for all ages and a contributor to the fire department.

While children at the mud bog were treated to free toys, Donovan said he also had the opportunity to meet an elderly attendee who was excited to travel to see the mud-covered mayhem. Admission is kept at an affordable price in hopes of keeping it accessible to families of all sizes.

With the Monroeton Rodeo – another one of the Monroe Hose Company’s largest fundraisers – having been cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Donovan stated that it’s a great feeling to be able to help raise money that helps the fire department continue to function. He encouraged everyone to “do their part” in supporting the department.


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The face of education

The pandemic has drastically changed the landscape of American life, and the education system has been greatly impacted. Distance learning became the new normal for most students at the end of last school year.

As the region strives to re-open with relaxed restrictions on physical distancing, there are ongoing discussions and questions regarding what plans will be put in place for students for the new school year.

And we may be just shy of five months into the coronavirus pandemic, but we’re only weeks away from what would be the beginning of a traditional school year for students.

With plans hinging on government decisions, data points, talking points and even, in some cases, politics, schools throughout the Twin Tiers region are scrambling to put their plans in place and get everything lined up for an opening that will be functional during the pandemic. Under these plans, learning could be carried out through various methods such as in-person, remotely, or a combination of both, with often staggered schedules to comply with occupancy restrictions.

For example, Blue Ridge School District, which serves the Hallstead and Montrose area in Susquehanna County is going with a hybrid plan that will offer a combination of in-person and remote learning.

For this plan, the students on campus will be split into groups with Group A attending classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Group B will attend school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays.

Alternatively, the Elk Lake School District, which serves a more rural area, will offer in-person instruction, with class sizes reduced to 25 or less, desks placed 3 to 6 feet apart, alternating lunch schedules, and the requirement of face coverings on the school bus.

In Bradford County, school districts are preparing all options when it comes to reopening, with most plans to be finalized next month. Some districts, such as the Athens Area School District, have been reaching out to parents and guardians via survey to get their thoughts on topics such as preferred method of instruction, concerns for the new school year amid COVID-19, bussing, and extracurricular activities.

In Tioga County, New York, superintendents are also working on their plans for reopening, which need to be submitted to the governor by July 31. Following this, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been both criticized and praised for his strict stance on re-opening things in the state, will make a decision; a decision that should arrive during the first week in August.

In the meantime, superintendents like Corey Green, from the Owego Apalachin School District, are working with their stakeholders to devise a plan that will work for everyone.

In a letter to members of the school community, Green wrote, “The district will prioritize in-person learning as much as possible, as well as build a comprehensive virtual learning plan and schedule.”

What this will look like is most likely a hybrid program, and the school is working to gather thoughts from the school community on health and safety as they work through their plans, with top concerns being cleanliness within the school, the use of face coverings and social distancing, and concerns surrounding the quarantine process if a teacher or student is discovered to be sick or ill. This thought exchange can be found at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/report/a5a4fe6fb658e6f8957eab3e64486869.

You can also visit www.oacsd.org/ReopeningOACSD.aspx for more reopening information as it develops for Owego.

In the Newark Valley Central School District, Superintendent Ryan Dougherty’s planning committee is currently working on a hybrid model, which will be similar to those adopted by other districts.

Superintendent Dougherty stated, “As you are no doubt aware, it is still a fluid process, and like everything during this challenging time, things change on the spur of the moment depending on what comes from Albany, which is what ultimately guides all of our plans.”

And the plans, as most of those involved in school administration have already discovered, can change in a “New York minute” as the governors and lawmakers try to find balance during these challenging times.

Community Polling

To gain a better perspective on how residents feel about a return to school and what model of study they would feel comfortable with this fall for their children, we ran independent polls in the Susquehanna County, Bradford County, and Tioga County, New York readership areas under the Morning Times, The Daily Review, Susquehanna Independent, and Owego Pennsysaver.

In Pennsylvania, 73% of The Daily Review’s respondents are looking for complete in-person instruction whereas 9% are hoping for a hybrid model of learning and 17% are looking to continue with virtual learning. One person voted for both hybrid and virtual, while another parent stated that everyone should have the freedom to pursue whatever option they feel is best for their children. Some even hope that the children don’t have to wear face masks at all.

In Susquehanna and surrounding counties, and out of hundreds surveyed, 234 individuals want to see in-person learning, 185 would opt for virtual learning only, and only 26 are opting for a hybrid option, which would include a combination of both learning methods.

In Tioga County in New York, we asked residents what they were thinking about a return to school and what it might look like.

One resident wrote, “Total distance learning. Not only will we have COVID, but also the flu season will be coming. We’re putting our teachers and students in harm’s way in my opinion.”

In contrast, another resident wrote, “Send them back, they need the structure. They need the routine. They need social interaction. They need to be kids! This has gone on too long as it is. We need to get back to living our lives.”

“I think parents should be able to choose what they feel is safest for their children and their families, and honestly the same for teachers and staff,” another parent wrote, adding, “At this point my ideal would be to start the school year solely distance learning with an option to let them go back in the building, if and when I feel it is safe. I do have a strong feeling we will be home schooling though, I just don’t feel safe putting them in the building yet. And my heart breaks for staff members that feel the same way and have no choice.”

Another wrote, “Kids just want a ‘normal’ routine, but right now that’s not possible. No sitting together in the lunchroom, no playing recess games, social distancing and masks worn at all times. This is not the routine needed right now. Why put teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and so many more at risk so your kid can see their friends. This isn’t forever and kids feed off our energy; so if distance learning it is, then make it fun somehow.”

Not So Normal

With so many varied thoughts and feelings around the opening of area schools, anxiety levels are high as things move forward in a “not so normal” fashion. Even with the opening of Phase 4 in New York state or the Green Phase in Pennsylvania, things don’t appear as they did before, with face covering protocols and social distancing widening the social connection and interaction among residents — particularly children, and students.

However, in a report published by The Center Square, it was noted that western countries worldwide are making a case that children should be returning to in-person classrooms in the fall.

The article cited a report published by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto that wrote, “While school closures may have been reasonable as part of the early pandemic response, current evidence and experience support the concept that children can return to school in a manner that maximizes children’s health and minimizes risks from a Public Health perspective.”

In the British daily national newspaper The Times, it was reported that there has been no recorded case of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil anywhere in the world, according to Mark Woolhouse, one of the British government’s leading scientific advisers.

But not everyone is seeing things the same way as complex emotions, including fear and anxiety that this pandemic evokes as we begin to emerge from our national quarantine to become a driving force for individual decisions among parents and caregivers.

Government Guidance

But in spite of the planning, preparation and emotions, the decisions will solely lie in the hands of state lawmakers, and in cooperation with school administrators.

In New York State, over 20 pages of guidance released on July 13 are to be used as a guideline by administrators.

These guidelines include recommendations on the reopening of school facilities for in-person instruction, monitoring of health conditions, containment of potential transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and the closure of school facilities and in-person instruction, if necessitated by widespread virus transmission.

Included, as core health and safety measures for New York schools are face coverings, social distancing, and a reduction of social density. Parents and caregivers are also being encouraged to provide their own transportation, where possible. Hygiene and contact tracing, among other requirements, are also to be set in place for in-school instruction.

Plans are due to the governor by July 31 in New York, and a decision on education will be rendered in the beginning of August out of Albany. At that time, schools will begin to move forward with their plans.

In Pennsylvania, the latest guidance announced earlier this month requires students and staff to wear face coverings at school and on the bus with some exceptions, such as if they are unable to due to a medical condition, need to communicate with someone who is hard of hearing, is unable to remove a mask without assistance, or if wearing a mask proves hazardous for what they have to do. Students can remove face coverings while eating or drinking.

State officials also encouraged social distancing as much as possible, from spacing desks 6-feet apart and making sure they face the same direction to holding classes in large spaces such as gymnasiums, auditoriums, and outdoors.

The state also suggested staggered class times, one-way walking patterns in hallways, limiting the amount of students on the playgrounds at one time, spacing out children in the cafeteria or serving pre-packaged meals in the classrooms, and holding virtual gatherings and activities as much as possible.

With sports, coaches, athletes and spectators must wear masks unless they can maintain 6 feet of separation, are working out, or are involved in competition.

Moving Ahead

Building on these guidelines, Pennsylvania school districts, charter schools and technical centers are required to develop and adopt a health and safety plan before they can welcome students and staff back to campus. The state strongly encourages private schools to do the same.

Schools are slated to open earlier in Pennsylvania, with Blue Ridge School District students set to return on Aug. 26, Susquehanna schools and Towanda Area School District set for re-opening on Aug. 25, and the Athens Area School District ready to welcome students on Aug. 27, for example.

In New York, schools are set to open after Labor Day; all dependent on decisions, once again, made out of Albany.

Staci Wilson, editor, Susquehanna County Independent & Weekender; Matt Hicks, editor, The Daily & Sunday Review; and Pat McDonald, editor, the Morning Times contributed to this report.


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Three more confirmed COVID-19 cases reported for Bradford County (free to read)

Bradford County now has three more confirmed COVID-19 cases as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health Saturday, bringing the total to date to 68.

The county has had 14 confirmed cases this week alone, beginning with a six-case spike reported Monday. As more people get tested, negative results continue climbing has well. The county currently has 4,720 negative tests, according to the Department of Health. Meanwhile, there continues to be no new probable cases or deaths.

Statewide, the Department of Health reported 1,054 additional positive COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths. Officials noted that 157,974 people have been tested over the past week.


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Holly Jolly July

ATHENS BOROUGH – Snowballs and Christmas carols flew through the air, and Santa was spotted in red shorts Saturday in Athens Borough as locals rang in Christmas in July.

While Athens’ annual street fair, which is usually held this weekend, was cancelled due to COVID-19, local businesses still brought holly jolly joy into town, including through a snowball fight at Teaoga Square.

Children laughed and even aimed snowballs at Santa during the fight, which was held at noon and hosted by Valley Snow Co.

Becky Clark, the owner of Valley Snow Co., said since Christmas in July (July 25) fell on a Saturday this year, it was a perfect time to offer a little lighthearted happiness to area residents.

“Since we specialize in snowballs I said let’s do a snowball fight, something different, something fun, something cool for the kids to do, so we just came up with the idea and ran with it,” she explained.

“I think it brightens their spirit because obviously everything with COVID and right now there’s not much going on this summer,” she added. “They’re not able to do much and, even with masks, I feel like they can have a good time.”

Clark said that many other local businesses were hosting events Saturday as well, including Kreative Kreations by Lowery’s with free hotdogs, Rise and Shine Community Center with craft making and candy canes giveaways, and numerous others who held sidewalk sales.

“We kind of just come together ... I think it’s better to work as a team as a group to kind of bring more people down here this summer,” Clark commented.

Santa was available for photos before and after the snowball fight and participants were treated to free Snowballs at Valley Snow Co. following the event.

Clark stated that she and the rest of the Athens Business Association are looking forward to many more community events throughout the rest of the year.