Pennsylvania schools to commit to safety measures as COVID cases rise

A head shot of Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.
Gov. Tom Wolf (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reword and properly attribute phrases that appeared verbatim in a press release on PA.gov.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced that pre-kindergarten to 12th grade public schools must undertake safety measures if the schools have been in the “substantial” transmission level for at least two weeks in a row.

Schools that don’t adopt the safety measures must transition to full-time remote learning, he said.

“All of us have a responsibility to slow the spread of this virus so our children can stay or return to the classroom,” Wolf said on Monday.

he number of deaths attributed ot Covid-19 has quadrupled in the past week, rising to 10,014 deaths, while the daily case count is seven times higher than two months ago, according to Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health

The state defines “substantial” transmission as recording 100 cases per 100,000 residents or more than a 10% positivity rate over the past seven days.

The governor is requiring schools to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building.

School leaders have until 5 p.m. Nov. 30 to sign a form stating they have transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the safety measures for in-person instruction.

Philadelphia’s health department announced Tuesday 1,077 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 61,780. As of Friday, 59 of 67 counties across the state have been in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks.

Philadelphia’s school district had already reversed its plans to start hybrid learning for  students in pre-kindergarten through second grade on Nov. 30. Superintendent William Hite said he made the decision after consulting city and state health officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

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Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey said Monday the governor’s action is an important step in the right direction.

“The health and safety of students, staff, and their families must be our top priority,” Askey said. “PSEA continues to call on school district leaders to follow all of the state’s public health guidelines without exception. Doing so remains the best strategy for slowing the spread of this virus and keeping all our students, staff, and their families safe.”

The teachers union in Philadelphia has been vocal about whether a return to in-person learning was safe.

The teachers and the school district had reached a tentative contract agreement last month that included a 2% raise and what union president Jerry Jordan called “one of the most stringent safety plans in the nation” to regulate in-person schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Remote learning should be no one’s goal, because we know that it is far from ideal,” Jordan said. “But, it is a win for students and educators nonetheless, because no one can work and learn if they are ill, or worse, from COVID.”

Update on student meals in Philadelphia

The school district will be closed for food distribution Friday. Students and caregivers can instead pick up student meals for the week (five breakfasts and five lunches) Wednesday. Food sites listed on phila.gov/food will be closed for food distribution on Thursday.

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