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PA Department of Education Issues Preliminary Guidance for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools

Weston P. Pesillo, Esq., wpesillo@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-5545

On June 3, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (“PDE”) issued preliminary guidance for the phased reopening of pre-K to 12 schools. The guidance applies to school districts, as well as charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools, career and technical centers, and intermediate units.

 

This Alert offers a general summary of the guidance, which is intended to serve as a start point for school administrators to consider as they make preparations for the upcoming school year.

Health and Safety Plan

Each school entity must create a Health and Safety Plan that will serve as the local guidelines for all school reopening activities. This Health and Safety Plan should be tailored to the unique needs of the school district and should be created in consultation with local health agencies, if possible. Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, Plans should incorporate sufficient flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. This would include flexibility to modify Plans in response to new, or changes to the existing, guidance issued by the PDE, State Department of Health, or CDC, as well as in response to the possible transition into a less restrictive, or regressing back to a more restrictive, reopening phase.

The Health and Safety Plan must be approved by the school district’s governing body. Once approved by the governing body, the Plan must be submitted to PDE at RA-EDContinuityofED@pa.gov. The Plan must also be posted on the school district’s website prior to the reopening of the school and the provision of services to students.

The contents of the Health and Safety Plan vary depending on which of the three phases of reopening – red, yellow, or green – the county in which the school is located is in. As many counties are now, or soon set to be, in the green phase, and in hopeful expectation that most others will be in the green phase by the start of the next school year, the summary below outlines required and advisable contents of Health and Safety Plans for schools in green phase counties only.

Green Phase Plan Requirements

Schools located in counties in the green phase may provide in-person instruction after developing a Health and Safety Plan, securing approval of the Plan by its governing body, and posting the Plan on its website. The Plan must include the following (bullet points in white provide possible additional considerations):

  • Identification of a “pandemic coordinator” and/or “pandemic team” with defined roles and responsibilities for health and safety preparedness and response planning.
    • Roles and responsibilities of all members of team should be defined.
  • Steps to protect children and staff at higher risk for severe illness, including those with underlying medical conditions.
    • Adopt flexible attendance policies; support and encourage options to telework for higher risk staff and students; limit or cancel non-essential travel; and/or modify duties of high risk individuals to limit their contact with others.
  • Steps to take in relation to isolation or quarantine when a staff member, child or visitor becomes sick or demonstrates a history of exposure.
    • Identify or establish an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits COVID-19 like symptoms; establish procedures for safely transporting sick individuals home; close off areas used by sick persons and do not use before cleaning and disinfecting; notify local health officials, staff, and families of exposure or confirmed cases while maintaining confidentiality.
  • Expectations for the posting of signs in highly visible locations that promote everyday protective measures and how to stop the spread of germs.
  • Procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and ventilating learning spaces.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects within the school and on school buses at least daily; ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors when possible.
  • Procedures for the safe use of cafeterias and other congregate settings.
  • Protocols for sporting activities consistent with the CDC Considerations for Youth Sports[1] for recess and physical education classes.
    • Select and modify exercises and sporting events in consideration of the physical proximity of players and length of time players are close to each other or staff; amount of necessary touching of shared equipment or gear; ability to engage in social distancing while not actively engaged in play; and the engagement of players at higher risk of developing serious disease.
    • Require enhanced surveillance and testing for any contact sport participants to minimize risk of transmission.
  • Schedules for training all faculty and staff on the implementation of the Health and Safety Plan.
    • Conduct training online to limit size of gatherings; stagger in-person training schedules.
  • A system for ensuring ongoing communication with families around the elements of the local Health and Safety Plan, including ways that families can practice safe hygiene in the home.
    • Provide regular update information on school website and/or in parent flyers/letters.
    • Remind parents to keep child at home if sick with any illness.
    • Prepare parents and families for remote learning if school is temporarily dismissed, including by providing training to parents/guardians for digital and remote learning.

In addition to those required elements of a Health and Safety Plan set forth above, school entities should also consider incorporating into their Health and Safety Plans the following:

  • Guidelines for hygiene practices for students and staff.
    • Guidelines on the use of face coverings by staff and students.
    • Protocols for classroom/learning space occupancy that allow for 6 feet of separation among students and staff throughout the day when appropriate.
    • Methods of limiting the number of individuals in classrooms and other learning spaces, and interactions between groups of students.
    • Methods of staggering the use of communal spaces and hallways and ensuring regular cleaning.
    • Procedures to limit the sharing of materials among students.
    • Processes for identifying and restricting non-essential visitors and volunteers.
    • Protocols for adjusting transportation schedules and practices to create social distance between students.
    • Processes to communicate and coordinate with local child care regarding on-site care, transportation protocol changes, and, when possible, revised hours of operation or modified school year calendars.

All school activities should be informed by Governor Wolf’s Process to Reopen Pennsylvania[2], and the general restrictions applicable to each of the three reopening phases. The PDE guidance identifies the CDC’s School Decision Tree[3] and Interim Guidance for Schools and Day Camps[4] as additional guidance that may be considered in connection with the reopening of schools.

Given the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, PDE’s guidance is likely to evolve as further research, data and resources become available. Within the next three weeks, PDE intends to release additional guidance that outlines steps for school re-openings. Additionally, as of Friday, June 5, 2020, an optional Health and Safety Plan template created by PDE will be accessible through PDE’s website.


[1] See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/youth-sports.html.

[2] See https://www.governor.pa.gov/process-to-reopen-pennsylvania/.

[3] See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/Schools-Decision-Tree.pdf.

[4] See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/php/CDC-Activities-Initiatives-for-COVID-19-Response.pdf#page=46.

June 05, 2020

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