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AASD under fire over photograph

Picture of students seated close together draws ire

Courtesy photo This photo, circulated on social media over the weekend, shows masked Altoona 11th and 12th grade students sitting side-by-side in the AASD Fieldhouse during the Nov. 12 welcome back ceremony. Board President Sharon Bream said what happened at the welcoming orientation was a mistake, but that administrators recognized the mistake, admitted it and corrected it the following day when underclassmen had their welcoming orientation.

Altoona Area School Board members responded to a controversial photo circulated via social media over the weekend.

The photo showed hundreds of masked Altoona 11th and 12th grade students side-by-side in the AASD Fieldhouse, apparently against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations of maintaining 6 feet of distance. The picture is from Nov. 12 during the students’ welcoming back ceremony to the new high school.

Board Member Rick Hoover said seeing the photo confirmed his stance that students should be doing full-virtual learning.

“I view it as a huge error in judgment,” he said.

Hoover said because the district is “a microcosm of the community,” it has a responsibility during this pandemic to keep students and faculty members safe — doing so by using a virtual learning model.

“The greatest responsibility we have in this community is to this community,” he said.

Board President Sharon Bream said what happened at the welcoming orientation was a mistake, but that administrators recognized the mistake, admitted it and corrected it the following day when underclassmen had their welcoming orientation.

“It shouldn’t have turned out that way, but if you knew the pressure (the administration) has dealt with trying to get students back to school,” she said.

Paula Foreman, community relations director for the district, said the administration misjudged the density of students within the space.

Foreman said high school Principal Andrew Neely shortened the welcoming address after realizing the error — the students were in the gym for about 20 minutes. The next day, she said they adjusted by separating freshmen and sophomores — one class attended the welcoming address while the other did tours of the new building. Both days, students were required to wear masks and had their temperatures checked at the front door, according to Foreman and Bream.

Neely sent an apology letter Saturday morning to parents and students.

“There were many things that needed to go differently and we fully recognize that,” he said. “Friday, we made those adjustments when we welcomed back our ninth and 10th grade students, as well as made additional modifications as we begin full in-person learning on Monday.”

Bream, who has advocated for parents’ choice in educational models, said she hopes parents understand that if they are uncomfortable with one model they do have other options.

Mirror Staff Writer Dom Cuzzolina is at 814-946-7428.

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