HARRISBURG (KDKA) — The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released “preliminary guidance” for reopening schools in the state.
The department says on its website that the plans will continue to evolve and that the information provided should be considered “a starting point” for educators.
Each school district for primary and secondary education will be required to draft a Health and Safety Plan before students can return. The plan must keep Gov. Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan in mind, so school districts in red phase counties must continue remote instruction, for instance. The plan will have to be approved by the district’s board of directors and then submitted to the state Department of Education for review. According to the department, the plan also must be posted on the school district’s public website before schools can reopen.
Schools in yellow phase counties may resume in-person instruction after July 1 and must follow the state Department of Education guidelines as well as the state Department of Health’s guidelines and the CDC’s guidelines. Some of the protocols include having a pandemic coordinator or pandemic team responsible for COVID-19 mitigation, having steps to protect children more vulnerable to the virus, having guidelines for when quarantined students, staff members or administrators can return to school, having guidelines for all staff to wear masks as well as some older students and ensuring other physical distancing measures at all times.
Schools in green phase counties will have in-person instruction but are advised to have backup plans should community spread of COVID-19 reemerge. These schools will be required to have much of the same protocols in place, including the pandemic coordinator or pandemic team, protections for vulnerable students, the wearing of face masks and other instructions on physical distancing and sanitation.
Additionally, protocols for organized school sports will be published separately, according to the state Department of Education.
The department has also provided guidance for the reopening of postsecondary and adult education in the state. There are two sections to this reopening plan. The first section is called “Phased Strategies, Expectation, and Considerations for Safely Resuming In-Person Instruction in Pennsylvania.” Within it, the state Department of Education details how universities and colleges will have to adapt depending on if they are located within a red phase county, a yellow phase county or a green phase county.
In red phase county, postsecondary institutions will only be open for in-person instruction for specific medical, nursing and allied clinical health training programs.
Postsecondary schools will have more freedom to operate in yellow phase counties. Limited on-campus instruction will be permitted, but administrations must develop strategies to prioritize the health of every student, staff member and faculty member, which will be informed by the state Department of Health and the CDC guidelines. These COVID-19 mitigation strategies must also be disseminated among all students, staff and faculty. Colleges or universities in green phase counties can “more fully resume in-person instruction and other routine operations,” according to the state Department of Education. However, there can be no non-educational event that has more than 250 people in attendance.
Postsecondary schools in yellow phase counties will be permitted to resume limited in-person operations on June 5.
The second section of the reopening plan for postsecondary institutions is called “Guidance and Recommended Practices for Resuming In-Person Instruction and Other Routine Operations at Postsecondary Institutions in Pennsylvania.” This section details how campuses must have sanitation instructions clearly placed in key areas and must have sanitation protocols in place. Face coverings should be worn by all students, faculty and staff in classrooms, shared spaces on campus and anywhere where social distancing cannot be followed. There will be exceptions made for people unable to wear a mask due to health conditions. Gloves and face shields also must be made available for certain activities.
Campus events are advised by the department to be limited at all postsecondary institutions. According to the guidelines, there should be limited seating in common areas, gyms should be disinfected regularly and spectators to sporting events should also be somewhat restricted, according to the department’s guidance. More guidance on college sports is not available at this time, but the department said it would be “forthcoming.”
Residence halls, shared bathroom facilities and classrooms should all be observing CDC guidelines on physical distancing and proper sanitation. Vulnerable populations should also be prioritized, and teleworking for university or college staff and faculty is encouraged. The department additionally provided guidance on what to do when there is a new confirmed case on campus and how students, faculty and staff should report to the administration that they may have COVID-19.