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Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Largest Teachers Union In State Says More Schools Should Go Virtual

(AP/KDKA) -- The largest teachers union in Pennsylvania is demanding that school districts in nearly two dozen counties with the worst coronavirus outbreaks have students temporarily learn from home.

The state recommends virtual instruction in counties with a "substantial" level of community transmission — a number that has been rising rapidly as the virus surges statewide and across the nation. Twenty-three Pennsylvania counties were deemed to have substantial levels of community spread for two consecutive weeks in the state's latest weekly survey.

Some Pennsylvania districts have gone their own way in spite of the state guidance, offering classroom instruction five days a week or using a hybrid model in which students go to school part-time and learn from home part-time. Schools, to this point, have not been seen as significant sources of spread.

But with colder weather about to set in and virus cases already skyrocketing, the Pennsylvania State Education Association said Wednesday that it's time for schools to heed public health advice.

"It is just absolutely unacceptable for any district to disregard the advice of experts right now when we're seeing this swing in infection rates," said Chris Lilienthal of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

The state's coronavirus guidelines for schools are not mandatory, and the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf has said it has no plans to reimpose a statewide shutdown order. Wolf closed schools last spring, and students spent the rest of the academic year learning virtually.

WATCH: Largest Teachers Union Calls For Remote Learning, Lindsay Ward With An AM Update

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association said that schools should consult with state education and health officials, as well as local health officials, as they make decisions about whether to offer in-person or remote instruction.

RELATED STORY: Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Schools Reporting More Cases As Some Switch To Online Learning

In our region, counties with "substantial" levels of community transmission include Armstrong, Indiana, Lawrence and Venango. Transmission rates in Butler and Mercer counties have been "substantial" for only one week.

Other local counties are seeing "moderate" transmission levels, which allows for blended learning.

But the Pennsylvania State Education Association is not the only union speaking up. Nina Esposito-Visgitis of the American Federation of Teachers says schools work hard to provide a safe environment, but the union is urging schools in areas with high rates of community spread to move to remote learning.

"I think this causes too much anxiety for both the students and the teachers and the numbers keep going up," said Esposito-Visgitis.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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