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PA Issues New Recommendations to How Schools Should Open

PA Education Secretary Pedro Rivera (Photo is a pre-COVID-19 photo). Photo is courtesy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Department of Education in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued new recommendations on Monday, Aug. 10, on how schools should open for the 2020-2021 school year in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“In response to school leaders’ need for additional guidance as to the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their communities, the Departments of Health and Education are providing recommendations to Pre-K to 12 schools for use when making decisions related to the instructional models used during the 2020-21 school year,” a statement from the Department of Education said.

The new recommendations take a county-by-county approach as to whether schools should open and remain open with a full-in person model (school is open each day with in-person instruction for all students – with some students/staff in a remote setting as health and safety concerns require), a blended-learning model (any model in which the number of students in a school building is reduced to allow for social distancing of six feet. This may be accomplished in many ways, including split schedules, schedules that rotate by day or week, or similar approaches. For these recommendations, blended learning also includes scaffolded approaches that treat grade levels in a differentiated manner), or a full-remote learning model (any model in which all students engage in all learning remotely) based on the incidence rate (number of cases) per 100,000 residents averaged over and seven-day period and the PCR (test) positivity rate.

Counties with an average seven-day incident rate of under 10 AND a PCT positivity rate of less than five percent are considered to have a “low” level of community transmission in the county and should do either the full-in person model or the blended-learning model, according to the Department of Education.

Counties with an average seven-day incident rate of 10 to 99 OR a PCT positivity rate of between 5 percent and less than 10 percent are considered to have a “medium” level of community transmission in the county and should do either a blended-learning model or a full-remote learning model, according to the Department of Education.

Counties with an average seven-day incident rate of 100 or more of a PCT positivity rate of over 10 percent are considered “substantial” level of community transmission in the county and should o a full-remote learning model, according to the Department of Education.

“It is important to note that a safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district, and county depending on a variety of factors, one of which is the spread of COVID-19,” the Department of Education statement said. “School entity decisions on instructional models require a great deal of consideration of local factors including size of the school entity, classroom size, school resources, proportion of staff and students with special needs and underlying health conditions, and the ability to accommodate remote learning with equal access for all students.”

The level of community transmission could fluctuate week-to-week in each community, the Department of Education said. Therefore, the Department is recommending that in order to confirm the “stability” of county transmission, school entities should wait to see the result from the next seven-day reporting period before considering a change to their instruction models.

“It is important to note that a significant and/or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based model more quickly,” the Department of Education statement said. “The Department of Health will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.”

When a school drops into a lower-transmission tier, the Department of Education believes the school may find it appropriate to wait even longer, up to a full marking period, to make the transition citing that this would ensure the most effective transition for students going back into the classroom.

To help school districts recognize what level of county community transition it is currently in, the Department of Education has developed a downloadable Excel spreadsheet titled “level of community transmission table” that is available on the Department’s website.  A breakdown of counties that house District 9 and District 10 schools from this table is provided below.

The release from the Department of Education did not cite what a school district that has students from multiple counties who might be under different levels of community transmission should do.

DISTRICT 9 AND DISTRICT 10 COUNTIES AND CURRENT LEVELS OF TRANSMISSION 
(Includes counties that a District 9 or District 10 school district draws from even if the actual school buildings are not located in those counties) 

County, Week Ending Aug. 7, Week Ending July 31*

Armstrong – Moderate, Moderate
Butler – Moderate, Moderate
Cameron – Low, Low
Clarion – Low, Low
Clearfield – Moderate, Moderate
Crawford – Moderate, Low
Elk – Low, Low
Erie – Moderate, Moderate
Forest – Low, Low
Indiana – Moderate, Moderate
Jefferson – Low, Low
Lawrence – Moderate, Moderate
McKean – Low, Low
Mercer – Moderate, Moderate
Potter – Low, Low
Venango – Low, Low
Warren – Low, Low

*(Dept. of Education recommends using the latest two consecutive weeks of community transmission before determining what the community transmission is)  

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