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Section I

Phased Strategies, Expectation, and Considerations for Safely Resuming In-Person Instruction in Pennsylvania

Topics: Plan for PA: Pennsylvania’s Reopening and Recovery Plan | Applying the Phased Reopening Plan to the Operations of Postsecondary Institutions | Considerations for Planning and Resuming In-Person Instruction | Considerations for Resuming In-Person Instruction on Campus

Plan For PA: Pennsylvania's Reopening and Recovery Plan

Pennsylvania's reopening and recovery plan is based on the designation of counties as red, yellow, and green. Each color designation signals how counties may implement social distancing and establish restrictions on work, instruction, non-essential operations, social interactions, and gatherings. Red, yellow, and green designations are data-driven and based on the following criteria established by the commonwealth 1:

  1. Decrease in the Number of New Cases
  2. Availability of Testing
  3. Robust Surveillance and Monitoring Infrastructure
  4. Adequate Health Care Capacity
  5. Sufficient Supply of Personal Protective Materials

While the future of COVID-19 remains uncertain, decisions about designating counties as yellow or green and resuming non-life sustaining business operations are anchored in the principles of public health, safety, and economic vitality for all Pennsylvanians. With these principles in mind, the commonwealth continues to plan a path forward that will not only safely return its residents to work, but to a more resilient Pennsylvania.

Applying the Phased Reopening Plan to the Operations of Postsecondary Institutions

The red phase of the PA plan represents the most restrictive and aggressive mitigation efforts of the state and has the sole purpose of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 through aggressive social distancing, closure of non-life sustaining businesses, and building safety protocols. During the red phase, there is no provision for in-person instruction at postsecondary institutions in PA, with the exception of certain medical, nursing, and allied clinical health training programs. Access information on these programs.

In the yellow phase, limited in-person instruction may resume at institutions in PA. Additionally, clinical training and field experience for all individuals preparing for licensure and certification are also permitted. However, before resuming in-person instruction, operations, services, and activities, institutions must plan and implement strategies to support healthy, safe, and inclusive learning environments informed by guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Procedures to increase personnel on campus who are essential to the provision of in-person instruction and other related operations are permitted as counties move across the various phases of the PA reopening plan. Figure 1 provides a list of allowable instruction, operations, services, and activities for postsecondary institutions and adult basic education programs that are organized within each of the three colored phases of PA’s plan.

While institutions may choose to resume some level of in-person instruction and operations in the red, yellow, or green phases of the PA plan, the decision is ultimately an institutional one. Postsecondary institutions must consult state and federal guidance to inform their decision. It is possible that counties may transition from red, to yellow, to green, and back to yellow and red. Institutions should prepare for this possibility.

Overview of Allowable Instruction, Operations, Services, and Activities at Postsecondary Education Institutions and Adult Basic Education Programs by Phases Corresponding to Pennsylvania’s Phased Reopening Plan.

​Red Phase
  • Telework required for all non-essential staff.
  • Virtual-only instruction permitted.
  • Clinical training and in-person instruction permitted for selected programs preparing individuals for licensure and that adhere to proper social distancing guidelines.
  • Large gatherings are prohibited.
  • Continue to adhere to CDC, DOH, and PDE guidance.
  • Monitor public health indicators and adjust plans as necessary.
​Yellow Phase
  • Telework should continue for faculty and staff where feasible, especially for populations at higher risk for COVID-19.
  • Limited in-person instruction that adheres to proper social distancing guidelines is permitted.
  • Clinical training and field experience allowed for all individuals preparing for licensure and certification.
  • Restrict gatherings of non-instructional activities to no more than 25 people.
  • Continue to adhere to CDC, DOH, and PDE guidance.
  • Monitor public health indicators and adjust plans as necessary.
​Green Phase
  • Institutions may more fully resume in-person instruction and other routine operations.
  • Restrict large, non-instructional gatherings to no more than 250 people.
  • Continue to adhere to CDC, DOH, and PDE guidance.
  • Monitor public health indicators and adjust plans as necessary.

Considerations for Planning and Resuming In-Person Instruction

Pennsylvania's decisive action to respond aggressively to COVID-19 has reduced the spread of the virus and positioned the commonwealth to launch a measured and strategic approach to safely resuming in-person instruction and other routine operations on campus. However, any decision to resume the provision of these operations and services should mitigate risk to ensure a healthy, safe, and inclusive learning environment and mitigate community spread.

With this precaution in mind, effective June 5, Pennsylvania will permit colleges, universities, seminaries, trade schools, and adult basic education programs in counties designated as yellow to resume limited, in-person instruction and other related operations, provided they consult with the relevant guidance included in this document and informed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOpens In A New Window (CDC).

Postsecondary education institutions choosing to resume any of the in-person operations permitted during the various phases of PA's reopening plan are required to create their own Health and Safety Plan, or its equivalent, and make that plan available to the public before proceeding to resume in-person instruction, operations, services, and activities. The Health and Safety Plan must also be communicated to students, faculty, and staff. The plan should address, at minimum, the following set of strategies 2:

  • A strategy on how the institution will coordinate with local public health officials, or the equivalent of;
  • A strategy to safely resume in-person instruction;
  • A strategy to monitor health conditions on its campus community;
  • A strategy to mitigate and contain the spread of the virusOpens In A New Window on campus, and to inform the DOH in the event that transmission occurs at the institution; and
  • A strategy to communicate accurate and timely information to students, faculty, staff, and the communities it serves.

Additionally, the institution's plan should further address the following public health and safety measures 3:

  • Reinforce practices related to hygiene, sanitation, and face coverings on campus;
  • Implement social distancing interventions and make the necessary modifications to facilities that may create an environment conducive to healthy, safe, and inclusive learning;
  • Review and adjust attendance requirements, absentee policies, and non-essential travel for students, individuals at high risk of COVID-19, and personnel; and
  • Modify course modalities, schedules, and academic calendars to adapt to changing transmission levels and community spread of the virus.

The commonwealth will set the conditions necessary for institutions to resume in-person operations safely by committing to the following:

  • Developing guidance and considerations for institutions;
  • Requesting that local public health and emergency management officials collaborate with postsecondary institutions and adult basic education providers in developing and implementing their plans, if possible; and
  • Aligning commonwealth resources and technical assistance to support institutional planning efforts.

Considerations for Resuming In-Person Instruction on Campus

The infectious and lethal nature of COVID-19 requires a well-researched and detailed plan prior to resuming in-person instruction and other related operations and services on campus.  While the commonwealth has responded to requests for guidance that will allow institutions to resume some level of in-person instruction during the red or yellow phases of the reopening plan, such decisions ultimately rest with the institution.

The process for making this determination must begin with an assessment of institutional preparedness to mitigate risk and ensure a safe, healthy, and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Once preparedness has been determined or established, then the institution can make a decision about the level and capacity in which it can safely resume in-person instruction and other related operations on campus.

In an effort to assist postsecondary institutions in their planning, PDE has developed a checklist (see Figure 2) to assist institution-led response teams and administrators in assessing their preparedness, risks, and capacity to resume some level of in-person instruction and other related operations and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Checklist to Assist Postsecondary Administrators and Institution Response Teams in Determining an Institution’s Ability to Mitigate and Manage Risk and the Level at Which It May Resume In-Person and Other Related Operations on Campus.

Step 1: Determine Your Institution's Preparedness to Mitigate and Manage Risks

CheckmarkIs the decision to resume in-person instruction consistent with state and local orders?

CheckmarkHave you developed a plan consistent with the minimum requirements and expectations put forth by PDE?

CheckmarkHave you begun to coordinate with local public health or emergency management officials?

CheckmarkDo you have a strategy for the monitoring health conditions on your campus?

CheckmarkAre you able to communicate accurate and timely information on COVID-19 related developments to staff, faculty, and students?

CheckmarkDoes your plan include a strategy for quarantine and isolation in the event transmission occurs on your campus or the county is designated as being in the red phase?

If YES to all, your institution is prepared to consider resuming in-person instruction and other related operations as permitted by the Governor's orders.

NOTE: Guidance and general considerations associated with some of the items in the checklist are provided in Section II of the Preliminary Guidance for Resuming In-Person Instruction at Postsecondary Education Institutions and Adult Education Programs.

Step 2: Determine Your Institution's Capacity to Resume In-Person Instruction

CheckmarkDo you have a plan and adequate supplies to reinforce practices related to hygiene, sanitation, and face coverings on campus?

CheckmarkHave you begun to implement necessary social distancing interventions needed to safely resume in-person instruction and other related operations on campus?

CheckmarkHave you made the necessary modifications to your facilities to help create an environment conducive to healthy, safe, and inclusive  learning?

CheckmarkHave you reviewed and made adjustments to attendance requirements, absentee policies, and non-essential travel for students, individuals at high risk for COVID-19, and personnel?

CheckmarkHave you modified course modalities, schedules, and academic calendars to adapt to the changing transmission levels and community spread of the virus?

If YES to all, your institution is prepared to make determinations about the provision of in-person instruction and the possible number of students you can accommodate on your campus.

NOTE: Guidance and general considerations associated with some of the items in the checklist are provided in Section II of the Preliminary Guidance for Resuming In-Person Instruction at Postsecondary Education Institutions and Adult Education Programs.

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1As new evidence and research emerge about the infectious and lethal nature of COVID-19, the commonwealth will assess these findings and adjust the gating criteria accordingly.

2Given the uncertainty related to the changing levels of community transmission of COVID-19, the commonwealth has initiated discussions with public health officials and other stakeholders about resurgence planning. The findings and determinations that emerge from these continued discussions will inform planning at all levels (i.e., state, county, local, etc.). Additional criteria to inform planning at the postsecondary level is forthcoming. 

3Specific guidance and considerations associated with each of these public health and safety measures are provided in Section II of the Preliminary Guidance for Resuming In-Person Instruction at Postsecondary Education Institutions and Adult Education Programs.