On the first day of school Aug. 31 at Mother Teresa Regional School in King of Prussia, a second-grade teacher and her students make good use of new portable, clear protective screens in the classroom, thanks to a collaboration of the Wayne-based Ambassador's Fund for Catholic Education and West Chester-based Communications Test Design Inc.

A second-grade teacher works with her students at Mother Teresa Regional School in King of Prussia, making use of portable, clear protective screens in the classroom. Due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 in Montgomery County, all public and Catholic schools in the county, including Mother Teresa, will offer online-only instruction for two weeks beginning Nov. 23.

Catholic parish and regional schools plus archdiocesan high schools in Montgomery County will shift to an all-virtual model of instruction for two weeks beginning Monday, Nov. 23.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese made the announcement Friday afternoon, Nov. 13 following a meeting earlier in the day when the Montgomery County Office of Public Health voted to mandate that all schools in the county also change to the online model due to the recent sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the county.

All school related in-person activities and athletic events in Montgomery County will also be suspended during this period.

Cases of COVID in the county based on positive tests have risen to 309 new daily cases as of Nov. 13, with 1,471 just in the past seven days – the highest rates at any time since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, according to county data.

In total 16,125 persons have tested positive for the deadly virus, with 848 deaths, in Montgomery County since March 7.

“It is our understanding that the recent surge in cases is due to increased social gatherings and the lack of the use of masks and social distancing,” read an archdiocesan statement. “With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, there is a concern that there could be a further increase in cases. Archdiocesan schools have been encouraging students and families to follow safety protocols both in school and at home.”

Affected in the decision are the county’s three archdiocesan high schools, 14 parish grade schools, eight regional schools and eight parish-based early childhood programs.

Each Catholic school will provide specific information to parents about this change and its impact at the local level in the coming week, the archdiocese said.

It added that the schools will return to prior instruction models, which feature either a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction or the flexibility for parents to choose the model they prefer for their children, on Monday, Dec. 7.

Meanwhile, leadership of local school districts and Catholic schools in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties remain in regular communication, according to the archdiocese. The counties’ health departments “have indicated that hybrid and in-person instruction should continue at this time,” the archdiocese said.

Over the summer, the archdiocese announced that school families at all parish and regional elementary schools had received the Catholic Schools Onward: Best Practices and New Opportunities plan and all archdiocesan high schools had received the Catholic High Schools Compass: Continuing Excellence in Catholic Education plan for the safe reopening of schools in the fall

“Archdiocesan schools have successfully and safely operated for two and a half months with very strong safety protocols,” the archdiocesan statement said. “Health departments have seen very few cases from schools in the area.”

The archdiocese said it recognized “the essential need to be nimble in the face of the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic landscape. As a result, flexibility is the hallmark of each school plan. Senior administrators are constantly monitoring developments and in constant contact with local health departments in order to adjust school plans accordingly.”

The statement said the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education remains “steadfast in its promise to keep school families informed and to remain in dialogue with them.”

It offered the email address covid19@archphila-oce.org where parents and guardians could ask questions of OCE administrators.