New back to school guidance from PA Department of Education

Regional News

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Schools across Pennsylvania have been asking for guidance from the state on how to safely re-open.

On Monday, they got a little bit.

PA Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, and Education Secretary, Pedro Rivera, unveiled a new metric to help districts decide whether to go all online, all in school, or a mixture of the two.

Counties will be classified based on their case counts as low, moderate, or substantial. The classification will be based on infections-per-100,000 residents and the percent positive rate.

Counties deemed low, with less than 10 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of less than five percent.

A county deemed moderate will have 10-100 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 5-<10 percent.

A county will be substantial if it has 100 per 100,000 infection rates and a positivity rate of over 10 percent.

Currently, only Union County is considered substantial.

The secretaries recommend, not mandate, that schools in counties considered substantial should provide online-only instruction.

Schools classified low or moderate are free to provide in-school instruction or a hybrid, which most districts have embraced.

“We are trying to thread that needle,” said Levine, speaking of balancing putting children back in school with keeping everyone safe and healthy.

Levine knows whatever her decision, there will be criticism.

“I get parents who definitely want kids to be back in school and decry any attempt to do anything else,” Levine said. “And I get other parents who say how can we possibly put all of our children at risk and all of our education should be remote.”

As a longtime middle school teacher, Jake Miller knows what’s best for students.

“Kids learn best in a classroom,” said Miller which is why he will teach his 8th-grade class in person at Mountain View Middle School in the Cumberland Valley School District. But he fears bringing Coronavirus home to his family with two young children.

“Our superintendent said it’s not a matter of if someone gets the virus, but when. That was kind of jarring,” Miller said.

The PA Public Schools Education Association, the statewide teachers union, said in a statement that it appreciates the guidance from the state but wants more, especially on social distancing and mask-wearing for in-school instruction. It said, in part, “we’re educators, not doctors.”

PA House Republicans criticized the new metrics from the Wolf Administration calling it a ” late-in-the-game, patchwork approach.”

Miller said parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place on whether to have their kids go back to school amidst a pandemic or go all online. For those who choose the remote option can he say that education will be on par.

“To say undoubtedly it’s gonna be just as great, that might be well-wishing,” Miller admits. “But we are all in this together to do what’s best for our children.”

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