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August 11, 2020

Pennsylvania offers guidance to school districts weighing instruction models

Two COVID-19 metrics should dictate decisions over in-person or remote learning, state officials say

Education Schools
Pennsylvania schools guidance Feliphe Schiarolli/

Many school districts have decided to begin the 2020-21 academic year remotely after initially planning to introduce a hybrid model.

Pennsylvania school districts are being urged to consider new state recommendations when deciding between in-person, remote or hybrid instruction models during the upcoming academic year. 

State officials are designating the community spread of COVID-19 in each county as low, medium or substantial based on two key metrics: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. Districts are encouraged to make decisions based on those designations, which will be updated weekly.

The designations align to the recommended instruction models: all in-person or hybrid learning for low-risk counties, hybrid or all-remote learning for medium-risk counties, and all-remote instruction for substantial-risk counties.

All five Southeastern Pennsylvania counties currently have been designated as having medium risk. That means they have an incidence rate of 10 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, or a 5% to 9% positivity rate over that period. 

Here are the current incidence and positivity rates for each county:

County Incidence Rate (per 100,000)Positivity Rate 
Chester 41.84% 
 Delaware78.6 5.2% 
 Montgomery30.3 2.5% 
 Philadelphia45.5 4.5% 

Low-risk counties have an incidence rate of less than 10 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of less than 5%. Substantial-risk counties have an incidence rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of at least 10%. 

The guidance is not a mandate, but designed to help school districts make adjustments throughout the year based on the state of the coronavirus pandemic, state officials said. School districts are advised to only change instruction models after observing at least two consecutive weeks of the same designation.

After initially pursuing a hybrid learning model for the upcoming academic year, the School District of Philadelphia will be conducting online-only instruction through mid-November. Several other suburban districts have followed suit. 

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