Universal and correct wearing of masks
The Secretary of the DOH lifted the
commonwealth's universal face covering order on June 28, 2021. As such, LEAs have the authority to determine local masking policies. Schools have been advised to follow
CDC recommendations in making policy decisions.
Physical distancing (e.g., including use of cohorts/podding)
Schools are advised to align distancing protocols with the recommendations for physical distancing outlined in the
CDC's Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Given the benefits of in-person learning, when it is not possible for schools to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet, schools are advised to layer multiple prevention strategies, such as indoor masking and increased ventilation.
Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
Handwashing and respiratory etiquette are recommended mitigation strategies for all students and educators and will continue to be emphasized by PDE and DOH for as long as they are recommended by the CDC.
Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including improving ventilation
Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including through improved ventilation, is a recommended mitigation strategy for all students and educators and will continue to be emphasized by PDE and DOH for as long as it is recommended by the CDC.
Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the state, local, territorial, or Tribal health departments
PDE and DOH have instructed schools to contact the DOH or County or Municipal Health Department (CMHD) before acting in response to a known or suspected communicable disease. When a case of COVID-19 is identified in a school setting, public health staff members from DOH or the CMHD work with school administrators to provide guidance and advice related to cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and quarantine recommendations, and closing certain areas of the school or entire school buildings if necessary. Schools within the jurisdiction of one of Pennsylvania's 10 county and municipal health departments work with their local health department when responding to cases of COVID-19 in a school setting.
At the start of the 2020–21 school year, PDE, in collaboration with the DOH, established a Joint Rapid Response Center for K- 12 schools. Through this emergency call center, schools have access seven days a week to PDE and DOH staff who can advise school leaders on mitigation strategies and appropriate public health responses, such as the contact tracing process and steps for closing a facility if necessary. DOH will continue to provide this type of technical assistance to school leaders during the 2021–22 school year.
In addition, PDE and DOH have guidance on contact tracing, isolation, and quarantining on their websites and provide updates on changes to guidance to school leaders and the public as needed.
Diagnostic and screening testing
During the 2021–22 school year, DOH will use CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) Reopening Schools grant funding to implement a free, voluntary COVID-19 testing program for all K-12 schools in the commonwealth, apart from schools in Philadelphia County. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health received its own federal ELC funding to implement a similar testing program. DOH is planning to offer pooled testing, individual diagnostic Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing, and rapid antigen testing at no cost to schools or families for the entire 2021–22 school year. DOH staff will be available to assist with the logistics, planning, and operations of this testing program, including a point of contact at each IU to assist with outreach and data collection for schools in their respective catchment areas.
Efforts to provide vaccinations to educators, other staff, and students, if eligible
In March 2021, public and non-public school teachers, administrators, bus drivers, and other school support and contracted staff were among the first to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania. PDE, DOH, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) collaborated with the state's 29 IUs and other education partners to equitably vaccinate all school employees and contracted staff as quickly as possible. Within three weeks, all PK- 12 school staff were provided an opportunity to be vaccinated, with priority given to educators and school staff working with elementary education students, students with disabilities, and ELs. This effort resulted in nearly half of Pennsylvania's 250,000 members of the educator workforce receiving vaccinations in less than a month.
Through the IUs, PDE and DOH continue to connect schools with state and local vaccination providers as requested, with many schools offering vaccinations to educators and eligible students during the school day. PDE has also partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to vaccinate migrant students and families during summer activities, in hopes of increasing vaccination rates before the start of the school year.
Appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities with respect to the health and safety policies
Pennsylvania's Public Health Guidance for schools includes recommendations aligned to the CDC for
students and staff with disabilities and other chronic conditions. Teams are directed to determine a student's ability to meet distancing guidelines on a case-by-case basis. If a student with a disability is unable to follow the distancing or other health and safety guidelines, schools should follow applicable federal and state law and work to collaborate with the student's parent/caregiver, medical provider, certified school nurse, and school administrators to develop an appropriate educational plan of care for students (i.e., 504 Plan or IEP). Teams are also encouraged to consider CDC guidelines for people at risk of severe illness, people who need to take extra precautions, and other at-risk populations. Per the CDC guidance, medically-fragile and high-risk students and the staff assigned to their classrooms are advised to have a symptom screening performed at school daily, in addition to the symptom screening required prior to arriving at school.