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Schools Could Reopen In Pennsylvania This Summer If They Meet State’s Safety Expectations

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Elementary and secondary schools in the yellow and green phases of the state’s reopening plan could resume in-person instruction as early as July 1. Higher education institutions may be able to do so on June 5, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The department released preliminary guidance for a phased reopening that requires each K-12 district to develop a reopening plan with input from local health officials. That plan must first be approved by districts’ school boards and then posted to the districts’ websites.

The state department of education does not have to sign off on plans, but will be a resource for guidance according to Education Secretary Pedro Rivera. He called the plans “living documents” that should be regularly updated consistent with ongoing research.

Rivera said that July 1 will mark the beginning of a new school year. Districts do not have to reopen buildings, move up the start of the school year or even resume in-person instruction in the fall. Rivera said the guidance is meant to give districts more options.

He said some school leaders have said they plan to move up the start of the school year because of the spring disruption of education. In a call with reporters Wednesday, Rivera did not specify which districts plan to do so.

The guidance does recommend that districts pilot reopening approaches “on a smaller scale to inform broader implementation in the fall” as early as July 1.

Yellow Phase K-12

Schools in the state’s yellow phase may provide in-person instruction after developing a Health and Safety Plan that includes the following:

  • Identifying a pandemic coordinator
  • Steps to protect children and staff at a higher risk for severe illness
  • Processes for monitoring student and staff symptoms
  • Steps to take when a staff member or child becomes sick and when they may return
  • Guidelines for the use of face coverings by students and staff
  • Expectations for posting signs on how to stop the spread of germs
  • Cleaning procedures
  • Protocols for classroom occupancy that allow for 6 feet of separation
  • Procedures for serving meals
  • Protocols for sporting and physical education
  • Schedules for training staff in new procedures
  • System for ongoing communication with families

The state also wants schools to develop methods to limit the number of individuals in classrooms and communal spaces. They want to limit the sharing of materials among students and to adjust transportation schedules to create social distance between students.
The plans for each of the state’s 500 districts will look different as enrollments and building sizes vary.

Green Phase K-12

Districts in the green phase of the reopening plan will have to adhere to similar planning procedures as those in yellow. They will not be required to develop a separate process for monitoring student and staff symptoms, develop guidelines for face coverings or create protocol for keeping 6 feet of distance in classrooms. The guidance for schools in the green phase states that the health and safety plan could include those measures “to the extent possible.”

Yellow Phase Post-secondary

As of June 5, colleges, universities, seminaries, trade schools and adult basic education programs in yellow and green counties can resume in-person instruction as long as they create Health and Safety Plans outlining the institutions’ strategies.

The plan must outline a strategy to safely resume in-person instruction while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

The state will allow “limited in-person instruction” in the yellow phase with clinical training as well as field experience for those preparing for licensure or certifications. The decision to do so will be left up to individual institutions.

In the yellow phase, institutions will limit in-person instruction that adheres to social distancing guidelines and restrict gatherings of non-instructional activities to no more than 25 people.

Green Phase Post-secondary

Postsecondary institutions in the green phase have less restrictive guidelines. They are asked to limit large, non-instructional gatherings to no more than 250 people

Rivera said more detailed guidance is forthcoming.