Pedro Rivera

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera speaks during a 2018 visit to Intermediate Unit 1 in California Borough.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education released additional guidance Sunday about the instruction of students and operation of PA Pre-K Counts and Head Start supplemental programs during the COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the two-week closure of all Pennsylvania schools beginning March 16, and the department provided initial guidance Saturday on which schools are closed, identifying essential personnel, the 180-day requirement and student meals during the closure.

“Education leaders across the commonwealth are working nonstop to meet the needs of their students during this critical time, from providing free meals to distributing instructional materials,” Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera said. “Today, the department is issuing additional guidance to assist schools, their students and parents and communities in these efforts. We will continue to provide guidance as we move forward.”

Here is the complete guidance provided to date:

Schools closed statewide

  • All public K-12 schools, including brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools, career and technical centers, and intermediate units;
  • Childcare centers operating within any of those schools;
  • All universities in the state System of Higher Education;
  • Within counties under aggressive social distancing guidelines, all schools are required to close, including private, parochial, and institutions of higher education.

Staff deemed essential

  • Those decisions should be made locally, in the context of school and community needs.
  • Examples of essential responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, school administration, food preparation and distribution, information technology and continuity of operations, including payroll.

School year’s day and hour requirements

  • The Department of Education will not penalize districts and schools that fail to meet the minimum day and hour requirements as a result of COVID-19 response efforts.
  • PDE will provide a simplified form that districts and schools can use to report any shortfall in days or hours.

Students accessing meals

  • Pennsylvania received approval from the federal government to allow schools the option to distribute meals at no cost while schools are closed.
  • Districts and schools that want to act on the federal action must apply to state Department of Education, which has begun and continues to expedite approvals.
  • Districts and schools may utilize essential staff to ensure students have access to meals.
  • PDE is partnering with the state Department of Agriculture, Department of Human Services, Emergency Management Agency, other state agencies, the American Red Cross, and public and private partners to expand the efforts.

Instruction requirement

  • The Department of Education recognizes that the rapidly evolving pandemic may make it impossible to implement continuity of education plans.
  • Although not required, many schools have plans, or are creating them, to provide continuity of education.
  • Intermediate units are preparing to offer technical assistance for schools interested in developing such plans. That support will be available by March 20.

Options for continuity of education

  • Educational services may continue in a variety of ways, including flexible instruction days for districts and schools with approved plans, online and digital learning opportunities, and materials sent home with students.
  • The decision to employ one or more of methods of continuity of education is to be made at the local level based on feasibility, availability of resources, access and equity considerations, and the state’s social distancing recommendations.
  • Whatever decision is made, local education agencies must ensure full access to learning for all students, with particular attention to free appropriate public education for students with disabilities and English as a second language services.

Education for students with disabilities

  • When a school is closed because of COVID-19 response efforts and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, the school is not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that closure period.
  • When a school is closed because of COVID-19 response efforts and does provide educational services to the general student population, the school must ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of free appropriate public education. In addition, districts and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s Individualized Education Program or Section 504 plan.
  • Once school resumes, a child’s IEP team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed, consistent with applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost during the closure within a reasonable time frame.

Early intervention services

  • Preschool early intervention programs should suspend all services to children and families in alignment with public K-12 closures.
  • If the preschool early intervention administrative offices are open while services are suspended, referrals to early intervention should continue to be managed by the program, and once services resume, referrals can proceed.

Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental programs

  • PA Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program grantees operating within a K-12 building should close in alignment with the closure of all public schools.
  • Grantees operating PKC or HSSAP in community-based settings have the discretion to continue to operate unless the county is under aggressive social distancing guidelines
  • To track program impacts, closures must be reported to both the preschool program Specialist assigned to each grant and to the Office of Child Development and Early Learning: RA-PWOCDELFacilclose@pa.gov.

For more information about Pennsylvania’s education policies and programs, visit www.education.pa.gov.

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