WEST CHESTER (August 10, 2020) – The Pennsylvania Departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) today provided school districts and administrators with more in-depth guidance regarding reopening plans during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, state Senator Andy Dinniman said.

“Parents, teachers, and school administrators should be aware of the criteria and the recommendations guiding decisions on safely and effectively educating children and young people during the pandemic,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “This information is helpful to not only Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, but also our nonpublic, private, and parochial school communities.”

These recommendations, intended to help Pre-K to 12 schools safely provide instruction to students as they progress through the 2020-21 academic year, are based on two standard public health metrics used by public health experts: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing.

The metrics are available for every county in Pennsylvania on the DOH COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard.

Under the criteria, using measurements from the federal Coronavirus Task Force, counties are identified by three levels of “community transmission” – low, moderate, and substantial. Accordingly, each level is designated a corresponding instructional model recommended by the Departments of Health and Education.

Schools in counties with:

  • Low transmission are recommended to follow a full in-person or blended (hybrid) learning model.
  • Moderate transmission are recommended to follow a blended (hybrid) or full remote learning model.
  • Substantial transmission are recommended to follow a full remote learning model.

Currently, there are 25 counties categorized as low, 41 categorized as moderate, and one categorized as high. Chester, Delaware, Berks, and Montgomery Counties are all currently classified as moderate.

To guide each school district’s decision-making process, every week the Department of Education will publish a list identifying the level of community transmission in each county over the most recent 7-day reporting period.

Under the recommendations, counties should experience changes in their thresholds for at least two consecutive weeks before considering a corresponding change in their instructional models. For example, a school offering a blended/hybrid model in a county identified as “moderate” might consider transitioning to a fully in-person model if the county moves to “low” for two consecutive weeks.

Dinniman said that such changes in instructional models would require schools, students, teachers, and parents to be flexible.

“Our schools are going to need to be incredibly nimble and agile to successfully navigate the potential for these changes – changes that would tremendously impact parents, teachers, and logistics,” he said. “Flexibility is key here as we continue to learn more about this virus while fully evaluating and exploring all our options.”

Dinniman also noted that the recommendations raise a series of important questions for school administrators.

“Schools have asked for increased guidance and here it is. But it also raises questions regarding how these guidelines mesh with the decisions that some districts have already made regarding the fall,” he said. “And we’re still awaiting recommendations on how schools should handle potential situations where students, teachers, or school staff test positive for the virus.”

Dinniman said that information is forthcoming from the DOH and PDE.