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Instructional Model Recommendations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

This page was created on August 10, 2020 and updated on January 7, 2021.

Are the Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools in Determining Instructional Models mandatory?

No. These recommendations from the Departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) are intended to provide additional guidance for school entities to use when making local decisions about the second semester, which will also require school leaders to consider numerous local factors, including size of the school entity, classroom size, school resources, proportion of staff and students with special needs and underlying health conditions, and the ability to accommodate remote learning with equal access for all students.

To which school entities do these recommendations apply?

These recommendations apply to all non-residential Pre-K to 12 schools. This includes: public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), and intermediate units (IUs).

How will school entities know whether there is low, moderate, or substantial community transmission in their county?

Each week, PDE will publish a list identifying the level of community transmission (low, moderate, or substantial) in each county.

What if a school entity is located in more than one county?

If a school entity is located in more than one county, DOH and PDE recommend that the school entity base decisions upon the county with the higher level of transmission. For example, if a school entity is located in two counties – one identified as having low transmission and another identified as having moderate transmission – the school entity should consider the instructional models recommended for moderate transmission counties (blended learning or remote learning, in this example).

Where can I find other public health information about COVID-19 transmission in my county?

Other public health information is available for every county in Pennsylvania on the COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard. The data are updated every Friday as a 7-day rolling average.

What should a school entity do if the level of transmission in their county changes week-by-week?

A county's corresponding threshold may change week-by-week as incidence and percent positivity rates rise and fall. In order to confirm stability of county transmission, when a county's corresponding threshold changes, school entities should wait to see the results from the next 7-day reporting period before considering a change to their instructional models. To ensure the most effective transition for students, it may be appropriate for a school to wait even longer, up to a full marking period, to transition to an instructional model that increases in-person instruction. It is important to note that a significant and/or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based model more quickly. The Department of Health will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.

Are schools required to incorporate these recommendations into the Health and Safety Plans approved by their governing bodies?

No. A public school entity that submitted its Health and Safety plan to PDE does not need to update its plan. However, all school entities are encouraged to revisit their Health and Safety plans to ensure that they reflect current mitigation efforts and safety protocols.

Is there evidence to support the safety of elementary school students returning to in-person instruction?

The research on offering in-person instruction during COVID-19 continues to emerge. While it is impossible to eliminate risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting when community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation strategies, including universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are strictly adhered to, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.

While people of any age can contract COVID-19, research suggests people ages 18 and under have a lower risk of severe outcomes, including lower rates of hospitalization and death resulting from COVID-19 infection. Additionally, emerging research suggests that children younger than 10 to 14 years old have lower susceptibly to SARS-CoV2 infection than adults.

Which schools are considered "elementary" schools?

For the purposes of this guidance, elementary schools include any grade level from PreK up to grade 6, as configured by the local LEA. They do not include middle, junior or senior high schools.

Can schools bring back targeted student populations for in-person instruction, regardless of what instructional model they are otherwise utilizing?

Yes. The Departments recognize that some student populations are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, schools may consider bringing targeted student populations back for in-person instruction, regardless of what instructional model they are otherwise utilizing provided other mitigation strategies such as masking and physical distancing are implemented.

Who determines which student populations can return to in-person instruction?

This is a decision for each school entity. Understanding that student needs and instructional delivery vary across communities, decisions should be made locally and in the context of aggressive COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and in a manner consistent with any applicable orders of the Governor or Secretary of Health.

When students engage in in-person instruction, must they maintain 6 feet of physical distancing at all times?

All Pre-K to12 schools should implement strategies that limit the number of individuals in classrooms and other learning spaces and interactions between groups of students. All schools should have protocols for distancing student desks/seating and other social distancing practices that allows at least 6 feet of separation among students and staff throughout the day to the maximum extent feasible.