Editor’s Note: The Saucon Valley School District is planning for a total reopening of schools with the option for students to learn online if they so choose. To review the district’s Path to Reopening for K-12 Schools: Health & Safety Plan, click here. The next Saucon Valley School Board meeting will be held virtually via Zoom on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. Click here for the link to access the meeting and for the agenda.
(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania schools should keep an eye on a state dashboard that rates each county’s coronavirus transmission rate to determine what sort of instructional model is safe to offer, Wolf administration officials said Monday.
The dashboard was announced during a news briefing by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew Stem.
They said schools in counties that meet the highest standard may be able to fully reopen safely, those that fall into the middle grouping–including both Northampton and Lehigh counties–could offer a hybrid model, with some instruction online and some in person, while those with the worst transmission rate should stay strictly online.
“We remain committed to helping our school leaders make thoughtful decisions about the 2020-21 school year, while helping Pennsylvania stem the tide of COVID-19 infections in our communities,” Levine said. “From the beginning of this pandemic, we have said that decisions would be based on science and on data. These recommendations use that data to help schools make local decisions.”
To meet the highest standard, a county must have had fewer than 10 coronavirus diagnoses per 100,000 residents over a 7-day span and a less than 5 percent positivity rate from tests conducted during that time.
Schools that don’t meet the highest standard but still have fewer than 100 diagnosed coronavirus infections per 100,000 and a positivity rate less than 10 percent would be recommended to offer the blended model, with some in-person instruction.
“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,” the Department of Education said on its website. “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.”
Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, 15 currently meet the highest standard, according to the dashboard. Another 51 meet the middle standard, and only one, Union County, would not meet the standard for any in-person instruction.
Pennsylvania Republicans, who have been critical of Levine’s decision-making throughout the pandemic, criticized the guidelines released Monday both for coming late in the game, with schools due to open this month, and for being inconsistent.
“Children, parents and teachers across Pennsylvania asked for guidance and support months ago to ensure schools reopened safely and stayed open,” Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman said in a news release. “Instead, they were given this late-in-the-game, patchwork approach to closing schools that provides no predictability or assurances; not for children, not for working parents and not for educators.”
Gottesman argued that the proper move at this point to ensure the best outcomes for students would be to fully reopen all schools in Pennsylvania.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other healthcare leaders have all noted the benefits to our children from a safe return to in-person education,” he said. “Our children and our families deserve the best possible educational opportunities, not the additional confusion offered to them today.”
Students in all schools, regardless of which category their county falls under, will be required to follow the state’s guidelines for wearing masks.
Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.
The Center Square fulfills a need for high-quality, publicly available statehouse and statewide news across the U.S. Staffed by professional journalists who engage readers with essential news, data and analysis, The Center Square-Pennsylvania was previously known as Pennsylvania Watchdog and PA Independent.