The hallways of New Castle's three schools were to be bustling with students as the district began to offer in-person classes for the first time beginning Wednesday.
Those plans are now on the back burner for at least all of next week and, depending on a state Health Department recommendation, possibly longer.
"For this coming week, we are staying virtual (November) 4, 5 and 6," district superintendent Debbie DeBlasio said on Thursday.
All eight Lawrence County superintendents are scheduled for a Skype meeting with officials from the Department of Health. The superintendents met earlier this week for an initial call with state health officials.
"At that time, they'll give us our designation," DeBlasio said.
Lawrence County, because of increasing cases of COVID-19, is one of a handful of Pennsylvania counties with a "substantial" designation. County's deemed substantial are recommended to use an all-virtual learning pathway. Other levels include "moderate," where a hybrid learning method is recommended, and "minimal," where the recommendation is that students can learn in school.
For New Castle, that requires no change as the district was scheduled to be the last in the county to welcome students back to physical classrooms. Students have been learning virtually all fall.
DeBlasio said she will be sending out a call to parents early next week updating them on the situation with the recommendation. She said the district was ready and moving toward bringing students back into school.
"To me, it's sad because my heart always goes out to the students of New Castle," DeBlasio said. "I know that I'm disappointing quite a bit of the children by not being able to return to the school. I'm following the recommendations for the health and safety of the kids from the Department of Health and the Department of Education. I was excited about seeing the kids in the hall. My administrators were happy about it. We were all ready."
She said district buses will continue delivering weekly meals every Monday at bus stops in the district with no changes.
In Ellwood City, that district was set to move to five-day-a-week, in-person classes on Tuesday. Those plans could be on hold.
"At this time, we are not facing an outbreak in our schools," acting superintendent Dr. Wes Shipley wrote in a letter to parents Wednesday. "Instead, we are responding to our community spread numbers as recommended by the Department of Health and Education."
If Lawrence County is in the substantial range come Monday, all Ellwood City schools will enter into at least two weeks of remote learning, effectiveTuesday.