Note: This article has been corrected to say the Montgomery County Board of Health voted to have schools go to virtual or remote learning from Nov. 23 to Dec. 4.
FRANCONIA — The Montgomery County health officials' order that schools in the county go all virtual for two weeks beginning Nov. 23 won't have much effect on Souderton Area School District, Superintendent Frank Gallagher told the Souderton Area School Board at a Nov. 11 committee meeting.
"For Souderton Area School District, there's not a huge impact because we don't have students the week of Thanksgiving. It's parent-teacher conferences. It always has been, and we will be doing them virtually," Gallagher said at the meeting. "The parents aren't even coming in for them. That was always the plan to do them virtually."
After hearing from several parents and residents, most of whom were in opposition to closing the school buildings, Montgomery County Board of Health voted Nov. 13 to have all schools move to virtual or remote learning from Nov. 23 to December 4.
"The implementation of virtual schools during the period of peak contagion is designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and is essential to ensure the protection of children, teachers, school staff and others who are impacted, as well as those in the general community," according to the order.
Gallagher said at the Souderton meeting that he knows some families will be traveling or having get-togethers during the holidays.
"This mitigation strategy will help families," he said.
"We want to keep schools open," he said, "and to do these short-term closures will allow us to keep our schools open."
About three-quarters of the 6,200 Souderton Area students are currently in district classes five days a week, with the other quarter receiving full online instruction from the Souderton Area Online Academy.
With the recent upswing in COVID-19 cases, some people have questioned why the school buildings aren't being closed, Gallagher said, but said the district falls below the county threshold for closures.
Statistics are being repeated online about incidence and positivity rates, but those are not the actual numbers because the rates given are for zip code areas, which often include more than one municipality, he said.
"You can't go by zip code. You really have to go by the township boundaries, and that's what Montgomery County has done this whole time," Gallagher said.
As of Nov. 11, active COVID-19 cases included four Franconia Elementary School students, four Oak Ridge Elementary School students, one Indian Crest Middle School student, one Indian Valley Middle School student, four Souderton Area High School students, and two Indian Crest Middle School staff members, according to information on the school district website.
"County health officials have told public schools that the two-week move to virtual instruction is prudent given a surge in rising COVID-19 case counts and an increase in hospitalizations," the district posted on its website following the county decision. "As always, the safety of our students and staff remains our priority. As we continue to move through a challenging school year, we are relying on the advice and support of local medical experts to help guide our decisions. This shift to fully virtual instruction will ultimately give schools a stronger chance at remaining in-person after the holiday."
Montgomery County has done a good job of controlling the pandemic and in working with individual school districts to make decisions that are best for the community, Gallagher said at the meeting.
The school district can be proud of what it has already done in providing classes during the pandemic, he said.
"We're doing it and my goal is to continue to adjust, to pivot when we need to," Gallagher said. "That's how we're gonna get through this year."