HARRISBURG – State officials have updated guidance to help Pennsylvania’s Pre-K to 12 schools prepare to reopen and safely educate students for in-person learning.
Each school entity will determine if classes resume in person at school buildings, remotely or a combination of both options.
The announcement was made jointly Thursday afternoon by Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.
“Our goal is to ensure a safe return to school for students, educators and staff by following best practices to mitigate the spread of the virus, including wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing,” Levine said.
“In those instances when someone tests positive, public health staff from the department will immediately assist the school with risk assessment, isolation and quarantine recommendations, and other infection control recommendations.”
The guidance represents endorsed best public health practices related to social distancing, face coverings, hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfecting in school settings.
It also outlines how to accommodate individuals with disabilities or chronic conditions, procedures for monitoring symptoms and responding to confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the school community.
“The health and safety of students, teachers and staff must be paramount as schools prepare for the upcoming school year,” said Rivera.
“The Department of Education has been focused on supporting schools with resources and best practices to help school leaders make informed decisions within their local contexts and in response to evolving conditions.”
The best practice recommendations for schools outlined by the departments of Health and Education include:
- Masks must be worn by students and staff at school and on the bus as required by the order signed by Levine on July 1, with some exceptions. Masks can be removed to eat or drink.
- Students or caregivers should do a daily symptom screening before leaving for school.
- Students, teachers and other staff are strongly encouraged to follow social distancing throughout the day with six feet of separation between desks and other seating.
- If possible, hold classes in gyms, auditoriums, other large spaces or outdoors, where physical distancing can be maintained.
- Student seating should be facing in the same direction.
- Limit student interactions by staggering class times, creating one-way walking patterns in hallways and, when feasible, keeping students in a classroom and rotating teachers instead.
- For breakfast and lunch, consider serving individually packaged meals in classrooms and avoid across-the-table seating. If meals are served in a cafeteria, sit students at least six feet apart.
- Limit the number of students on playgrounds at one time and encourage social distancing.
- Encourage the use of virtual gatherings, events and extracurricular activities.
The guidance released Thursday provides a list of best practices for schools to consider before the start of in-person classes.
The guidance for school sports is unchanged. Coaches, athletes and spectators must wear masks unless they can maintain six feet of separation outdoors. Athletes can remove masks during a workout or competition.
Thursday’s guidance builds on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s preliminary guidance issued June 3 outlining steps schools must take before they may resume in-person instruction.
The preliminary guidance requires school districts, charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units to develop a health and safety plan.
The plans must be approved by the school’s governing body and made available on the school’s public website before bringing students and staff back to campus.
Non-public schools are strongly encouraged to create plans tailored to their unique needs and post them on their Web sites.