December 03, 2020
Pennsylvania is allowing public schools to continue in-person instruction despite the entire state experiencing a substantial level of community spread of the coronavirus.
To do so, school districts needed to submit forms attesting that they are following strict health and safety protocols. But schools that exceed new thresholds for COVID-19 cases are advised to revert to remote learning.
More than 99% of districts had completed attestation forms by Tuesday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The documents were due Monday.
Any public school that did not submit the attestation form is required to shift to online-only instruction and suspend all extracurricular activities if it is located in a county experiencing substantial community spread of COVID-19. That currently applies to all 67 counties, according to state data.
The forms commit districts to following updated face covering requirements and directives for responding to COVID-19 cases.
The state recommends schools close for 14 days if they exceed certain case thresholds based on school size.
Schools with fewer than 500 students should close if they record at least five COVID-19 cases over a two-week span. For schools with 500 to 900 students, that threshold is seven cases. And it's 11 cases for schools with more than 900 students.
"While 2020 has been unlike any other year in the history of education, our school communities continue to show tremendous flexibility, grit and resilience," acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said in a statement. "I am proud of our schools for their unwavering commitment to protecting their communities from an unpredictable virus while ensuring students continue to have access to a safe, quality education."
State officials have recommended schools shift to all-remote instruction when there is a substantial level of community spread, but they have the left the decision in the hands of local districts.
The state deems counties as having substantial risk if they have a test positivity rate of at least 10% or an incidence rate of at least 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day stretch. .
Last month, the School District of Philadelphia postponed indefinitely its plans to revive in-person instruction due to the surge in coronavirus infections.
Montgomery County has mandated all public and private schools hold online-only instruction for a two-week stretch that began Nov. 23. In-person learning and extracurricular activities can resume Monday.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, has urged more school districts to adhere to the state’s public health guidelines and pivot to all-virtual learning.