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Manheim Township high school and middle school students disembark from their school buses on the first day of school on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

Tens of thousands of Lancaster County students are resuming in-person instruction amid a pandemic that shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

But it’s unclear whether the public will be notified when a school or district experiences a case of COVID-19.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which has been responsible for sharing COVID-19 data across the state, says it’s still working on protocols to track cases by school district, raising questions over how quickly parents will learn about cases that could impact their families.

“We are working with the Department of Education and school districts on the best ways to communicate increases in school-aged children,” state Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle said in an email Tuesday.

Complicating that process, he said, are the various modes of instruction each school district is offering. Any student in a given school district could be learning in-person or online. Some districts have an option of both online and in-person.

“Obviously,” Wardle said, “it will take some time to link a case in a child to a school, since there are different teaching models happening at the same time across the state.”

Wardle said the Health Department will have more details “shortly.”

Until then, the responsibility of notifying families of confirmed COVID-19 cases seems to be up to each school district.

Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter said his district is working on plans to notify parents of positive cases. But, he said, the district is waiting to unveil its plan until more is known about what kind of data public health officials will eventually share.

Bob Hollister, Eastern Lancaster County School District’s superintendent, called the Health Department’s answer “vague.” He added that monitoring cases at the elementary level, where classmates tend to stick together, would be manageable, but tracking high school students, who move around the school more often, would be more difficult.

As for notifying the public of positive cases, Hollister said the state Health Department “owns that ball for lots of practical and ethical reasons.”

For Jennifer Juhl, 38, of Lititz, these types of unknowns were the reasons she enrolled her daughter, a Warwick High School freshman, in the school district’s virtual academy.

Juhl’s family is at-risk of contracting an infection and experiencing severe complications, she said. Juhl, her husband and her mother are diabetic. Juhl and her mother are also cancer survivors.

“It’s just not worth having her exposed,” Juhl said of her daughter.

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