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​January 7, 2021

This message was shared for the 2020-21 school year.

Dear Colleague,

In August, the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Health provided school leaders with recommendations on which instructional models they should implement based on changing levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in their counties. Today, those recommendations have been updated to encourage schools to consider returning some students to in-person instruction as local conditions permit.

Beginning with the start of the second semester, the Departments recommend public schools in counties with substantial transmission consider returning elementary school students to in-person instruction while secondary school students remain fully remote, provided they follow all applicable orders and safety protocols. Also, due to some student populations being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 response efforts, schools should consider resuming in-person instruction for targeted student populations (i.e., students with disabilities, English Learners, etc.), regardless of the general instructional model they are utilizing. As always, these recommendations are dependent on 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.

Notwithstanding the susceptibility of adult populations, a recent meta-analysis indicates that children younger than 10 to 14 years of age have lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection than adults. Based upon this evidence, and what we know about the importance of in-person instruction to young children, our updated recommendations notably include the addition of elementary only instructional models for consideration for schools in counties experiencing substantial transmission.

The instructional model recommendations are not a mandate, and school entities that have already submitted Health and Safety Plans do not need to resubmit their plans as long as they comply with the attestation process and associated orders. School entities, however, are encouraged to revisit their Health and Safety plans to ensure that they reflect current mitigation efforts and safety protocols. The Wolf Administration continues to maintain that as local leaders, you are best positioned to make instructional decisions that account for the county level transmission metrics and additional local factors including local resources and community needs.

In anticipation of future conditions that may allow for an accelerated return to in-person instruction, the Departments will continue to adjust guidance and resources accordingly. Thank you for continuing to serve your students and communities well as we navigate this unprecedented challenge together.


Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Noe Ortega, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education