Elementary and secondary schools inside Pennsylvania's less restrictive reopening zones can resume teaching in person and other activities by July 1, 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.
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"The plans will be flexible," Education Secretary Pedro Rivera told reporters Wednesday via video conference.
That flexibility means schools won't necessarily be required to offer in-person instruction by July 1, though they can do so if they follow the state guidelines, and they will be allowed to continue hybrid or fully online education if they so choose.
The state will also allow schools to go back to online-only classes if health conditions worsen.
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,” Rivera said 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 said more information will be provided in the coming weeks about how schools can safely operate.
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.
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.