WEST CHESTER (July 31, 2020) – Many parents and school officials are pondering what schools will look like when classes resume. Opinions differ and are strongly felt.

“Over and over again, we hear the question: ‘What does medical and academic research tells us about a safe and educationally sound approach to opening schools and how do I access such information?’” said state Senator Andy Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee. “There are some answers and my goal is to make the information available to all.”

“Considerations for Reopening Pennsylvania Schools,” a comprehensive research report prepared by the Department of Education in partnership with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic at Mathematica, one of the nation’s foremost social policy research firms, is available online here.

A summary, prepared by Senator Dinniman’s office, is available here.

The report presents existing research on COVID-19 and offers a Pennsylvania-specific body of research – both qualitative and quantitative – that can help inform parents and school officials as they prepare to make important decisions regarding the upcoming school year.

“Pennsylvania is one of the only states to work with a nationally recognized research firm in amassing this information. It is an asset and a tool that parents and school officials should consider utilizing in navigating this challenging and unprecedented situation,” Dinniman said.

In the week ahead, Dinniman is planning to offer a virtual presentation about the report and the different scenarios it presents for schools and the risks involved in these scenarios.

The report includes valuable information on the completion of local health and safety plans, preparations for the resumption of in-person teaching and learning, and development of supports for student and staff wellness.

Its components include:

  • Evidence – A review of the most recent research on COVID-19, early findings from school reopening internationally, and estimations of educational and other impacts from long-term school closure.

 

  • Perspectives – The results of formal interviews with state government officials, public health experts, leaders of statewide education organizations, administrators from school districts of every size and type, representatives of the charter school community, classroom educators, parents, and other stakeholders.

 

  • Strategies – Cutting edge, predictive modeling of COVID-19 disease transmission to anticipate differences in transmission associated with different approaches to re-opening Pennsylvania schools. This research used student and school employee data in a computational model to test seven re-opening scenarios that are sensitive to school type and grade configuration.

Under the report and its modeling, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is encouraging local school districts to plan on offering at least some in-person instruction for all students, while continuing to develop and refine remote-only instruction.

According to an introductory letter from Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, “Anticipating that COVID-19 conditions will change throughout the year, schools should contemplate some reduction in overall student presence each day.  This can be accomplished through any combination of rotating or split schedules (including through the use of block scheduling at the secondary level), expanding distance learning, and other appropriate measures.”

In addition, Dinniman noted that while the research is rigorous and the report offers an exhaustive look at a multitude of factors and scenarios, there is no single path forward regarding the return to school or what the 2020-2021 school year will look like. Each area of the Commonwealth and even each school district face a different set of circumstances and are making decisions based on them.

“When it comes to COVID-19, there are still a lot of unknowns and its widespread impact on education and the safe resumption of classroom instruction is no different,” Dinniman said. “But parents and school officials deserve to know all of the information that is out there. I know this will help them navigate these challenges and make informed decisions.”

While legislative hearings are useful in that concerns are raised, they often do not provide answers. Clearly, comprehensive, research-based information with different scenarios for schools is needed. That is what is presented in this report commission by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and I encourage parents and school officials to review it,” he added.

Dinniman also emphasized that we all need to continue to work together and in line with CDC and Department of Health guidelines, such as enhanced hygiene practices, social distancing, and mask-wearing, to reduce the risk of the spread of this disease in our communities.