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September 30, 2021

Dear Colleague, 

I want to provide you with several updates provided by the departments of Education (PDE), Health (DOH), and Transportation (PennDOT) at a press conference today. 

These updates include multi-agency efforts to respond to widespread shortages of school bus drivers; the anticipated rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11; expanded COVID testing in schools; the current mask-wearing requirement for K-12 schools, early education, and childcare facilities; and the extension of the teletherapy waiver to continue to support students in need of these services.

School Bus Driver Shortage

The nationwide shortage of school bus drivers is having a significant impact in communities across the commonwealth. At the Governor's direction, PDE and PennDOT are reaching out to approximately 375,000 drivers with Commercial Driver's Licenses (CDL) and issuing a survey that will connect interested drivers with school entities. In addition, PennDOT is temporarily expanding its days of operation to offer CDL skills testing at 23 locations statewide to include Mondays for four weeks beginning October 18. To schedule a CDL skills test, either visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website or call 717-412-5300. 

Also, as a reminder, school districts may use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to reimburse parents or guardians to safely transport their students to and from in-person school, and to hire/contract with additional drivers. 

COVID Vaccine for Children Ages 5 to 11

This week, Pfizer applied to the federal government for approval to administer a vaccine to children between ages 5 and 11. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review processes are anticipated to take several weeks, schools are encouraged to contact local vaccine providers now to schedule on-site vaccination clinics. As a reminder, all individuals age 12 and older are currently eligible for the vaccine.

In August, the Acting Secretary of Health directed vaccine providers to coordinate vaccine clinics with interested schools for school staff, volunteers, students, and families. These clinics can be held at schools or locations agreed upon by schools and vaccine providers.

K-12 Classroom Testing Program

Screening testing, along with the COVID-19 vaccine, is critical to keeping students and staff healthy and schools open. For the 2021-22 school year, the state has partnered with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks to provide a free COVID-19 testing program to K-12 schools statewide. The program is completely voluntary and can be customized to meet the needs of your school community. I encourage all schools to learn more about the program and consider adding it to their mitigation protocols. Nearly 400 schools are currently enrolled in the program. 

Visit K-12 Testing Program for more information. 

Contact Tracing

The DOH continues to review and streamline processes for schools as we continue in-person instruction and manage COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Early next week, you will receive important updates to the contact tracing protocols for schools.

School Masking Order Update

Acting Secretary of Health Allison Beam announced that DOH is continuing to track CDC recommendations. "We know that wearing masks in school buildings and continuing to increase the number of people vaccinated have truly helped keep students learning in-person this year," Beam said. "I commend the majority of school districts, students, teachers, staff, and parents who have accepted the scientific fact that masks will help keep students in classrooms while the COVID-19 virus continues to infect Pennsylvanians of all ages." DOH will provide another update on masking in early November.

Telemedicine Services

Earlier today Governor Wolf signed into law Act 73 of 2021 to ensure certain regulatory waivers, including those related to telemedicine, remain in effect through March 31, 2022. A list of all regulatory suspensions that have been extended is available online. PDE continues to work with other state agencies to provide additional clarification about telemedicine services available statewide and will share information as it becomes available.

As always, PDE stands at the ready to assist you as you continue to ensure the safety and well-being of your students, staff, and communities. We thank you for your tireless advocacy on behalf of Pennsylvania's learners.

Thank you,