WEST CHESTER (August 11, 2020) – The Pennsylvania Senate and House Education Committees will hold a joint public hearing on safely reopening K-12 schools this fall on Wednesday, August 19 at 1 p.m., state Senator Andy Dinniman said.

The meeting, which will be live-streamed, is set to include testimony from Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.

Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he expects the hearing to raise some major regarding the latest guidance on school reopening plans provided by the Pennsylvania Departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE)

Those recommendations, offered yesterday, aim to guide schools in safely providing instruction to students as they progress through the 2020-21 academic year. They are based on two standard public health metrics used by public health experts: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing.

However, they lack other important information, Dinniman said.

“Most importantly, we’re still awaiting recommendations on how schools should handle potential situations where students, teachers, or school staff test positive for the virus,” he said. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in other states, that is bound to happen and parents, teachers, and staff deserve to know what protocols are recommended to keep them as safe as possible.”

Dinniman said that information is still forthcoming from the DOH and PDE despite the rapidly approaching school year.

In addition, Dinniman noted that it is only natural for parents and community members to wonder how the latest guidelines mesh with the decisions that some districts have already made regarding the fall.

Under the criteria, 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.

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