HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Elementary and secondary schools inside Pennsylvania’s less restrictive reopening zones can resume teaching in person and other activities at the end of June, the Education Department said Wednesday. The guidance issued by the department says school boards in the green and yellow zones under the stoplight-colored reopening system must first adopt health and safety procedures that meet federal and state guidelines.
The more than 300 colleges and other post-secondary institutions can restart on Friday if they have a plan to keep students and teachers safe, the agency announced.
The reopening details follow a spring in which buildings were closed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, sending students home for distance learning to complete the school year, and more recently virtual graduation ceremonies. Signs the pandemic is easing have prompted officials to implement gradual reopening of many functions.
“We fully expect students to return to classrooms in some capacity,” said Education Secretary Pedro Rivera in a news release, describing the guidance as helping schools establish “a framework that best meets the unique needs of their students and communities.”
Rivera planned to answer questions about schools reopening during a virtual press conference later Wednesday, and his department said more information will be provided in the coming weeks about how schools can safely operate.
“Educators, students and caregivers have done a remarkable job as we all navigate through this pandemic,” Rivera said in a statement. “Now we need to direct our energy to focus on how to resume instruction in the 2020-21 school year. We fully expect students to return to classrooms in some capacity and are confident that schools will use this guidance to build a framework that best meets the unique needs of their students and communities.”
K-12 schools that want to start teaching students in person will have to develop plans that are tailored to each school’s particular conditions. Local health agencies must be consulted, and the plan must be submitted to the state Education Department.
Schools will have to identify a pandemic coordinator, ensure those at higher risk of infection are protected, monitor for symptoms, limit large gatherings, issue hygiene guidelines and address cleaning, face masks, social distancing.
The requirements do not apply to private schools, although officials are encouraging them to follow suit.
Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite addressed the reopening announcement on Facebook, saying city schools are in no way ready for a July restart.
“Together here in the city between district and charter schools, there are over 200,000 students. The next largest district in the commonwealth is Pittsburgh with 25,000 students,” Hite said. “And then the vast majority — 60% of school districts in the state of Pennsylvania, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania — are between 200 and 1,000 students so there are multiple approaches and PDE is trying to be flexible enough so that all districts have some sort of guidance.”
Colleges, universities, trade schools and other post-secondary institutions in the yellow or green zones can restart in-person instruction. The Education Department said those institutions must adhere to social-distancing guidelines and the federal and state standards for testing, as well as to mitigate and contain the spread of infection.
The recommendations for colleges and similar institutions include a phased return to campus, as well as earlier start and finish dates for the academic year.
CBS3’s Natasha Brown contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)