Note: This story has been updated with additional information.
Following several county-wide closures of public schools that began Thursday, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced Friday afternoon that all schools for children in kindergarten through eighth grade will close for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16, to help prevent spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
At that point, Wolf said the possible need for continued closure of schools will be evaluated.
“First and foremost, my top priority as governor–and that of our education leaders–must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities,” he said in the announcement, which was shared via his office’s Twitter feed.
“Be aware that no school district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements,” Wolf continued. “The Department of Education will work with intermediate units and other stakeholders to support school districts with any continuity of learning plans they may be pursuing.”
“Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced today that it received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure,” he said. “We will also work with schools to assist them with those plans.”
The news followed an announcement earlier in the afternoon that all Bucks County schools would close through March 29 and Thursday’s announcement that all Montgomery County schools would close for two weeks.
Montgomery County has been hit hardest by the spread of the illness, with at least 17 presumptive positive or confirmed cases of coronavirus reported Friday afternoon.
Northampton County to date has one confirmed or presumptive positive case of coronavirus; an unidentified patient who was being treated at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus hospital in Bethlehem Township as of Thursday.
State health department officials put the number of confirmed or presumptive positive coronavirus cases statewide at 33 in a mid-day news briefing. So far all of the cases have been in counties along or near Pennsylvania’s eastern border.
Saucon Valley School District superintendent Dr. Craig Butler Thursday announced a number of precautions the district was taking to help reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, although to date there have not been any confirmed cases of it in the district.
In an email to parents following the governor’s announcement, Butler said additional information will be forthcoming.
“Saucon Valley office personnel will report on Monday, March 16 and at this time families will be able to pick up electronic devices, your child’s medication, or any other essential equipment/materials during normal school hours,” Butler wrote. “Please be advised, I will remain in communication with all parents/guardians in the coming days as we share more information.”
What the closure of schools will mean for many parents who work remains unclear. Many child care facilities are also being impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, along with other businesses that serve members of the public, which is contributing to economic impacts in the community, across the state and throughout the country.
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Allentown were closed Thursday and Friday for what was described as “deep cleaning,” and many colleges and universities have closed dorms and classrooms in favor of online learning for the remainder of the spring semester.