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Pa. schools to get more state virus analysis to guide reopening

MARC LEVY and MARK SCOLFORO
The Associated Press
William Penn High School senior Kevin Cruz adjust his mask during a pre-graduation ceremony at the school's Princess Street entrance Thursday, May 28, 2020. He said his mother's friend made the mask for him. Seniors received their diploma covers accompanied by up to 4 family members during the in-person event. The school is holding an official virtual graduation ceremony June 4. Bill Kalina photo

HARRISBURG — Under pressure to give schools more health guidance about how to safely reopen, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Monday that it will provide recommendations to school districts based on the local rate of transmission of the coronavirus.

The Department of Health plans to provide an analysis showing the seven-day rate of transmission in each county and group those rates into three categories: low, moderate and substantial. The new recommendations come after weeks of pleading from local school district officials seeking more guidance from the state. 

The department’s recommendation on how to reopen would be based on those categories. So, for areas with a low transmission rate, districts could adopt a partly remote or a full in-person instruction model. For areas with a moderate transmission rate, districts could adopt a partly remote or fully remote instruction model.

More:Staring down reopening, Pa.'s educators beg state for direction

For areas with a substantial transmission rate, the department would recommend a fully remote instruction model.

Most of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts will be in the moderate category.

While a county’s transmission rate and corresponding category could change week by week, Wolf’s administration said schools should consider changing their instructional models only after looking at the past two weeks of transmission.

It also said a significant or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based model more quickly.

The Wolf administration unveiled the information after the state’s school superintendents organization challenged it to provide more detailed public health guidance.

School boards across the state have been caught between parents worried about sending children back and threatening to take their children to cyberschools and parents demanding that schools reopen for five-day weeks of in-person instruction.

In a statement, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association called the guidance “warranted” and said it will help school leaders make informed decisions. But it criticized the timing, with some districts opening within two weeks after weeks or months of planning.

“The timing of its release is at a point where school leaders are far along the path of planning for school reopening,” the organization said.

District leaders can assess new information, but it may be challenging to incorporate this latest set of guidance into their reopening plans at this stage, it said.

Over the past few weeks, local school officials and leaders of organizations that represent them have demanded more input from the Wolf administration as the fall term nears.  

“The leadership of this state, i.e. the government, has put school districts in, yet again, an untenable position,” York Suburban board member James Sanders said recently, a sentiment shared by local school officials throughout the state.