Centre Co. School District buys new tech to fight viruses & bacteria in the classroom; nearly out of Covid funds


WINGATE, CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ)– As school districts across Central PA continue to prepare for students to return to in-person or virtual classes, one district in Centre County is installing new technology they feel will improve student safety.

Bald Eagle Area School District will add bi-polar ionization machines to every classroom in every school building (more than 150 rooms in total).

The machines (pictured below) essentially eliminate many bacteria and viruses within a closed room.

Note: they are not guaranteed to eliminate Covid-19 (more on this is described later in this article).

“Johns Hopkins uses this machine we’re purchasing. I believe one of the major hospitals in New York City uses it–we wanted to try it ourselves,” said Bald Eagle Area Superintendent Scott Graham, “We did some tests with different types of germs and bacteria—it killed anywhere from 66% to 94% of the bacteria and germs.”

But Graham said purchasing more than 150 machines comes with a cost: $160,000.

He acknowledged the difficulty in making schools as safe as possible while keeping the district in the green.

“How quick fund money goes”

Graham said the district received about $460,000 in combined Cares Act and Safety Fund money.

But Monday he said: “That’s pretty much gone.”

Graham told WTAJ the district spent more than $150,000 for face masks/shields (for students and staff) and disinfectant.

“It adds up quickly,” he said. “That’s just to start the school year—as we go through and see what we need, there will be more costs with that.”

Technology Costs:

In addition to costs for face masks, cleaning supplies, and bi-polar ionization machines, the district expects to pay:

  • An additional $1,500 per month to double their bandwidth (something they’ll need to live-stream classes to kids at home)
  • Thousands more dollars to provide each teacher with a web cam for live class broadcasts

Transportation Costs:

Graham said while the district does not expect a need for more buses, they could be looking at increased costs with the need for more van drivers. This is because students with medical conditions cannot wear a mask, and therefore can no longer ride the bus.

“We may have to look at an alternate way for them to get to school–that could be a potential increased cost,” he said.

Note on mask wearing in schools:

According to Graham, Pennsylvania schools now require a doctor’s note providing proof of a medical condition wherein a mask cannot be work. Once presented with the doctor’s note, the school must create a plan for each student’s school experience–to keep them safe.

More on the Bi-Polar Ionization Machines:

“They do kill some Covid viruses–but not necessarily Covid-19,” Graham said.

He said that they will stop other diseases–such as the flu–from spreading. Graham feels this means fewer students and staff will be immunocompromised by non Covid-19 viruses–and therefore they may be less susceptible to Covid-19 itself.

“Not only is it gonna be effective as part of helping kids from getting sick now–but it’s also gonna be effective once Covid goes away during the cold and flu season,” he said.

The machines will be located near the heating unit in each classroom. Graham said they won’t make much noise, and have a “pleasant smell.”

“It’s possible that we may look at larger units for the gym and cafeteria,” he said.

More on cleaning plans:

To directly fight Covid-19, Graham said the district purchased a peroxide-based solution that kills the coronavirus in one minute.

More than 20 high-powered spray guns will be used to clean each bus and school room (in between class and after school).

“It’s gonna allow us to clean at a much quicker rate than a traditional spray bottle and wipe down,” Graham said.

Financial Outlook:

Going through gallons upon gallons of cleaning solution can eat away at funds, but Graham said in the midst of a pandemic, costs are secondary.

“We’ll worry about that later–but safety is paramount here in the district,” he said.

Still–he knows there’s a chance the district will have to pull funds from other school areas, or face a deficit.

“If we don’t get additional funding–we’re going to have to look at local monies or state monies that we would be using otherwise. We’re hopeful in the next stimulus package being considered, there will be more money for schools.” Graham said.

The district came into this year with a deficit of more than $2 million. They are using a fund balance to balance their budget. Graham hopes they won’t have to tap into this fund balance at the end of the year.

BEASD’s Options for Students:

The district is offering four options for students when classes resume, Tuesday, August, 25:

  • In-person classes (5 days a week)
  • Cyber school (non live-streamed classes taken at home)
  • Live stream school (live streaming BEASD classes from home)
  • Hybrid of half in-person classes, half live-streamed classes

Superintendent Graham spoke more on the hybrid model

“Half of the week they’ll be at the school in class, they other half they’re home live streaming into class,” he said. “Some weeks they’ll be in the school two days a week, some weeks they’ll have three days a week. It’ll balance out throughout the year where they have 90 days instruction in school and 90 days instruction at home.”

WTAJ: What’s the main rationale for this program?

Graham: “It’s a way for students to still get into school and interact with classmates and teachers, but it also potentially lessens the amount of students at any given time. There would be an “A” group and “B” group if we have a large enough number of students. That’s where the alternating would come in.”

Graham also said alternating groups of students would cut down on bus volume, and maybe allow students to take their masks off in-class.

“The hope would be that if enough students take advantage of the alternating program, we can socially distance in the classroom so students wouldn’t have to wear masks,” he said.

Currently he said most elementary school class sizes are low enough that masks could be taken off in the classroom. He hopes the same can be said for secondary students.

“I can imagine it would be very uncomfortable. Having students wearing masks—we’re gonna have to take mask breaks,” he said.

The district will provide a mask or face shield to every student.

Within the week, the district will send out a survey to families asking which of the four aforementioned options they’re selecting.

Parents and students will have until August, 14 to make their decision.

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