Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

PA will allow schools to reopen July 1; districts must develop safety plan

Harrisburg’s Lincoln School

Schools in PA can begin to re-open on July 1, though districts must have in place health and safety plans based on federal and state guidance.

The state Department of Education today gave school districts in all “yellow” and “green” zones permission to reopen on that date as long as they develop plans based on guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health.

By July 1, all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties should be in either the yellow or green phase of the state’s three-phase reopening plan. On Friday, all remaining red phase counties, mostly in the southeast portion of the state, are due to enter the yellow phase.

“The Wolf administration remains committed to the safety and welfare of students, faculty and staff, and any reopening plan must be rooted in these principles,” said Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera, in a statement. “As school leaders resume instruction in the 2020-21 school year, the department recognizes the need for preliminary guidance to aid in planning for a return to in-person instruction, delivery of services, and resumption of extracurricular activities.”

According to the department, plans must encompass several elements:

  • identifying a pandemic coordinator or team to lead response efforts
  • steps to protect higher-risk children and staff
  • processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms
  • guidelines for hygiene practices
  • processes for cleaning and disinfecting
  • guidelines for the use of face masks
  • protocols for social distancing
  • procedures for restricting large gatherings

The plans must be approved by local school boards and posted on the school or district public website before a school reopens. The plans must also be submitted to the state education department.

According to Rivera, the plans should be tailored to the unique needs of each school and reflect a comprehensive, community approach created in consultation with local health agencies.

The guidance applies to school districts, charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units. Nonpublic schools are strongly encouraged to create plans tailored to their unique needs and post them on their websites.

Postsecondary schools in the yellow and green phases can resume in-person instruction on June 5 following the development of a health and safety plan. The guidance applies to colleges, universities, seminaries, trade schools and adult basic education programs. Institutions must adhere to proper physical distancing guidelines and other general public health and safety considerations informed by guidelines released by the CDC and DOH, according to the education department.

“Educators, students and caregivers have done a remarkable job as we all navigate through this pandemic,” Rivera said. “Now we need to direct our energy to focus on how to resume instruction in the 2020-21 school year. We fully expect students to return to classrooms in some capacity and are confident that schools will use this guidance to build a framework that best meets the unique needs of their students and communities.”

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