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Determining Instructional Models During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools

This page was updated on April 5, 2021. 

These updates go into effect on Monday, April 12, 2021, for Pennsylvania's school communities.

In response to school leaders' need for additional guidance as to the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their communities, the Departments of Health and Education are providing recommendations to Pre-K to 12 schools for use when making decisions related to the instructional models used during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) K-12 School Operational Strategy includes additional resources and information to help schools maintain safe in-person learning environments or prepare to return to in-person instruction. Mitigation strategies such as physical distancing and masking, and handwashing remain essential to operating safe learning environments regardless of instructional model.

A safe 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. School entity decisions on instructional models should be guided by school-specific factors such as mitigation strategies implemented, 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.

The recommendations contained in this guidance rely on two standard public health metrics recommended by the CDC: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. These metrics are available for every county in Pennsylvania on the COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard.

Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools in Determining Instructional Models for Second Semester

This chart below, using metrics from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, identifies thresholds representing low, moderate, or substantial community transmission of COVID-19, and corresponding instructional models recommended by Pennsylvania's Departments of Health and Education and the CDC.

For ease of use, once per week, the Department of Education will publish a Level of Community Transmission Table identifying the level of community transmission in each county over the most recent 7-day reporting period. 

If fewer than 10 new cases are reported in a county in the most recent 7-day reporting period, the county will automatically qualify as exhibiting a low level of community transmission. 

Level of Community Transmission in the County Incidence Rate per 100,000 Residents (Most Recent 7 Days) AND/OR PCR Percent Positivity (Most Recent 7 Days) Recommended Instructional Models*

Low

<10

​AND

<5%

Full in-person Model

Moderate

10 to <100

OR

5% to <10%

Full in-person Model

OR 

Blended Learning Model

Substantial

≥100

​OR

≥10%

Blended Learning Model 

OR

Full Remote Learning Model

*For all instructional models, it may be appropriate for a school entity to provide in-person instruction for targeted student populations (e.g., students with disabilities, English Learners, etc.) regardless of grade.

Transitioning Between Instructional Models

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. 

Instructional Model Definitions

Various terms are used to describe the manner by which schools reduce the transmission of disease through alternative instructional models. No matter which instructional model a school entity has selected, schools must implement the Health and Safety Plans approved by their local governing body and posted on their websites, and all associated mitigation strategies, including applicable orders of the Secretary of Health.

For the purpose of these recommendations, the following terms are used:

    • Full In-Person Learning Model: School is open each day with in-person instruction for all students (with some students/staff in a remote setting as health and safety concerns require).

    • Blended Learning Model: Any model in which the number of students in a school building is reduced to allow for recommended social distancing practices in classrooms and other learning spaces. See Social/Physical Distancing Measures. This may be accomplished in many ways, including cohorting, alternate schedules with fixed cohorts of students and staff, split schedules, schedules that rotate by day or week, the use of additional facilities, providing instruction only to targeted grade levels in a school or similar approaches.

    • Full Remote Learning Model: Any model in which all students engage in all learning remotely.