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Support for LEAs

Describe how the SEA will support its LEAs in safely returning to in-person instruction and sustaining the safe operation of schools. This description must include:

  1. How the SEA will support its LEAs implementing, to the greatest extent practicable, prevention and mitigation policies in line with the most up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff;

Table B1. Mitigation Strategies.

Mitigation Strategy SEA Response

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.

  1. Any Statewide plans, policies, estimated timelines, and specific milestones related to reopening and operation of school facilities, including any mechanisms the SEA will use to track, monitor, or enforce their implementation;

    Safely reopening schools and sustaining safe operations to maximize in-person instruction is essential for student learning and well-being, and especially for addressing the educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In accordance with section 2001(i)(1) of the ARP Act, all LEAs receiving ARP ESSER funding must develop and make publicly available on the LEA's website a Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan, hereinafter referred to as a Health and Safety Plan.

    In May 2021, PDE provided LEAs with a template to revise their current Health and Safety Plans to meet ARP requirements and ensure all stakeholders are fully informed of the LEA's plan to safely resume instructional and non-instructional school activities, including in-person learning, for the current school year. ARP ESSER Health and Safety Plan guidance is available on PDE's website. The plan must be approved by the LEA's governing body and posted to the LEA's publicly available website. LEAs are required to submit their plans to PDE no later than July 30, 2021, regardless of when they submit their application to PDE for ARP ESSER funding. In addition, the LEA must provide PDE with the URL for the website where the plan is located. PDE will then post this information to the PDE website in a user-friendly format.

    LEAs will not be able to receive ARP ESSER funding until a Health and Safety Plan is submitted.

    Initial and revised Health and Safety Plans will be tracked via PDE's electronic eGrants application and reporting system and the FRCPP. While reporting requirements are not yet finalized, reporting will include how the LEA is developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies and plans in line with the CDC guidance related to mitigating COVID-19 in schools.

  2. To what extent the SEA and its LEAs consult with Federal, State, and local health officials. This description should include, if available, whether the SEA and its LEAs have received support for screening testing from their State or local health department based on funding awarded by the CDC; and

    In Pennsylvania, LEA school calendars and modes of instruction are determined locally and will continue to be a local decision for Summer 2021 and the 2021-22 school year. As with the 2020-21 school year, PDE will not mandate operational status or modes of instruction for schools; rather, PDE, in cooperation with DOH and other state agencies, is focused on creating the conditions that allow for a safe return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

    Due to the size and diversity of the commonwealth, a return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district, and county depending on a variety of factors, one of which is the spread of COVID-19. DOH updates its COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard weekly to reflect COVID metrics from the prior week.

    Throughout the 2020-21 school year, PDE also published a Level of Community Transmission Table identifying the current level of community transmission of COVID- 19 (low, moderate, substantial) for each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. School leaders used this information to implement instructional model recommendations consistent with those of the CDC. The recommendations relied on two standard public health metrics recommended by the CDC: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. Schools will continue to have access to data for monitoring community transmission levels in their communities and have been advised by PDE and DOH to implement prevention and mitigation strategies accordingly based on the most recent CDC guidance for K-12 schools.

    School entity decisions on instructional models are guided by school-specific factors such as mitigation strategies, 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. In May 2021, PDE and DOH updated Pennsylvania's Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools to include the CDC's recommendations for K-12 schools on social distancing in classrooms and handling COVID-19 cases in school buildings. PDE and DOH will continue to monitor evolving research and guidance closely and modify the commonwealth's guidance and operational strategies so that schools can make decisions at the local level consistent with best practices and with public health and safety at the forefront.

    PDE recognizes that while schools across the commonwealth are planning for a return to in-person instruction five days per week in the 2021-22 school year, there may still be a need for remote instruction in certain circumstances. To provide schools with predictability for planning purposes and flexibility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and to accommodate families that request periods of remote instruction for their children due to the pandemic, PDE has issued guidance to LEAs regarding how remote learning time can continue to satisfy the 180-day and 900/990 hour statutory requirements for the 2021-22 school year.

  3. Any guidance, professional learning, and technical assistance opportunities the SEA will make available to its LEAs.

    PDE and DOH regularly post, update, and provide information and resources for schools and communities related to COVID-19. Resources for schools include Family Supports and Services, Mental Health and Well-Being, School Community Guidance and Resources, a Pennsylvania Resource Guide, links to CDC guidance, and much more.

    Every message to school communities is catalogued on the PDE website. PDE and DOH provide webinars and trainings and make recordings of these sessions available as needed. PDE and DOH will continue to provide LEAs with information on updated guidance from the CDC and any future state guidance or orders.