Pennsylvania Department of Education latest recommendations


EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A surge in novel coronavirus cases across the commonwealth has resulted in updated guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Weekly reports from the department list all of the state’s 67 counties as having “substantial” community transmission of COVID-19 leading to fully remote learning models to be recommended.

Current reopening guidance

Pennsylvania Department of Health issues new guidance

The newest guidance from the CDC says that students may be spaced three feet apart instead of the previously recommended six feet. Teachers must continue to remain six feet apart from students.

Starting January 25, the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education are providing a second recommendation for elementary schools in substantial level counties. In addition to remote learning, an option for blended of hybrid learning for elementary students will be available.

Fully remote learning remains recommended for middle and high schools in the substantial level counties. K-12 schools may also consider bringing back targeted student populations for in-person instruction, regardless of what general instructional model they are utilizing.

“The research on offering in-person instruction during COVID-19 continues to emerge,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.” 

These updated recommendations are intended to help schools begin the process of safely returning as many students as possible to in-person instruction during the 2020-21 academic year.

The Scranton School District, located within a county with “substantial” community spread recently released plans to include in-person learning starting in March. Families do have the choice to opt students out of in-person classes.

Public school entities in counties in the substantial level of community transmission are required to sign an attestation form affirming that if they are providing any type of in-person instruction, that they are following the DOH face covering order and DOH guidance on how to handle confirmed cases in buildings. All required schools have completed and submitted an attestation form.

Previous requirements for Pre-K to 12 public schools in substantial counties for at least two consecutive weeks:

  • Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building.
  • By 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, chief school administrators and the governing body president/chair must sign an attestation form stating they have either transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the orders if they are conducting any in-person instruction while in the “substantial” range of transmission.
  • Those schools that do not sign or comply with an attestation are required to provide only fully remote learning and suspend all extracurricular activities as long as the county remains in the substantial transmission level. 

“All of us have a responsibility to slow the spread of this virus so our children can stay or return to the classroom,” Gov. Wolf said in a satement.

What do the levels of transmission mean?

The Department of Education determines levels of community transmission in each county based on the incidence rate of COVID-19 per every 100,000 residents. The measurements are based on calculations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force and help determine recommendations for local school districts.

Level of Community Transmission in the CountyIncidence Rate per 100,000 Residents (Most Recent 7 Days)AND/ORPCR Percent Positivity (Most Recent 7 Days)Recommended Instructional Models
Low<10​AND<5%Full in-person Model OR Blended Learning Model
Moderate10 to <100OR5% to <10%Blended Learning Model OR Full Remote Learning Model
Substantial≥100​OR≥10%Full Remote Learning Model
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education

Schools are recommended to change their instruction model if the transmission level in their county remains the same for two weeks. For example, if a county is considered to ‘substantial’ community spread, it is not necessary that all districts within that county will move to full remote learning. Instead, those districts should watch the transmission table and community with the department to determine their best course of action.

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