Test To Stay Forum Available to PA School Leaders (December 5, 2021)

Test To Stay is endorsed by the PA Department of Health (PDH) and information can be found on the PDH  website at:  https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Test-to-Stay.aspx

The North Penn School District has been doing Test To Stay since early November.  It is has been extremely well received by all is it safely keeps children in school. Numerous other districts in Montgomery County are also beginning the Test To Stay program as a joint project with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Since early November, The Rockefeller Foundation, joining forces with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been hosting an 8-week learning network for school and district leaders and their invited testing partners to help them start or strengthen Covid-19 screening testing programs. 

To continue supporting school and district leaders and their COVID-19 testing programs, The Rockefeller Foundation along with the White House, USDE, and CDC launched a virtual weekly learning network in early November.

The network is facilitated by nationally recognized school health leader, Diana Bruce, with support from other school leaders who have deep experience doing school-based testing. 
With three weeks left in the series, next week’s sessions will focus on: 

Test to Stay and Close Contact Testing 

This learning network is a forum to ask questions, hear directly from other school leaders who have done this work, and engage some of our nation’s top experts on technical issues. There are two sessions held each week to discuss the same topic Tuesdays: 5– 6 p.m. EST, and Wednesdays: 4 – 5 p.m. EST.  All are welcome to attend any and all sessions and days can be mixed and matched.

Learn more and register here: https://www.openandsafeschools.org/learning-network

For questions about the series, please email: Leah Perkinson at: lperkinson@rockfound.org

Dr. Curt Dietrich, Superintendent of North Penn SD, will be a contributor to the panel and will be sharing information specific to Pennsylvania. Please join the next session of the learning network to learn more about Test To Stay! 

DHS Reminds Pennsylvanians Help is Available Through Public Assistance, Emotional Support Resources (December 3, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services today reminded Pennsylvanians that help is available for those who need it during the winter months and year-round, including resources to help pay rent and utility bills, provide food for their families, or get health coverage or help for mental health and emotional issues they may face through the holiday season.

“The holidays are a joyous time, but they can also be a stressful time for those who are worried about not being able to pay their bills, go to the doctor, or put food on the table,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “It is important for Pennsylvanians who may be experiencing hard times to know that they are not alone, and help is available through a variety of state and federal resources. DHS is here to help, and I urge anyone who needs it to contact us and find out if they are eligible for heating assistance, food assistance, rental and utility payment assistance, and much more.”

The following programs are available to help Pennsylvanians:

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides assistance to renters and homeowners by helping eligible individuals and families with low incomes to pay their heating bills. The 2021-2022 LIHEAP season has been extended for this year and is open to cover expenses from October 18, 2021, to May 6, 2022.

Thanks to additional funds from the American Rescue Plan, Pennsylvanians will receive more funds this year to help them cover heating utility costs. LIHEAP cash grants range from $500-$1,500 and LIHEAP crisis grants were increased to $1,200 for this season. LIHEAP is distributed directly to a household’s utility company or home heating fuel provider. Assistance does not have to be repaid.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) is available in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to help eligible tenants receive up to 18 months of assistance for overdue or upcoming rental and utility payments. Either tenants or landlords can apply for this assistance, but a tenant does not need a landlord’s permission to apply and use ERAP funds. This program is an opportunity to help ease circumstances for both parties, so landlords and tenants are strongly encouraged to work cooperatively to secure this stabilizing assistance. ERAP is overseen by DHS at the state level but administered locally by county and municipal partners. Pennsylvanians can learn how to apply in their county of residence online at www.dhs.pa.gov/erap.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps, helps Pennsylvanians by providing money each month for groceries. SNAP is our country’s most important and most impactful anti-hunger program. For every meal provided by a Feeding Pennsylvania food bank, SNAP provides nine.

SNAP’s critical role in helping low-income individuals and families goes beyond dollars to support Pennsylvanians in need. SNAP also supports businesses in the communities where recipients live and shop. According to research by the USDA, during an economic downturn, a $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits could increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by as much as $1.54 billion – stabilizing a critical segment of the economy and supporting approximately 13,560 jobs, including farmers and other agriculture workers.

Medical Assistance and the Children’s Health Insurance Program help Pennsylvanians access quality, affordable health coverage, ensuring that they do not have to forego necessary routine, preventive, or critical physical and mental health care due to being uninsured, especially during cold and flu season or during the ongoing pandemic.

Pennsylvanians who have lost health coverage or are currently uninsured and need coverage for themselves or their children may qualify for coverage through Medical Assistance or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medical Assistance and CHIP provide coverage for routine and emergency health services, tests and screenings, and prescriptions, and COVID-19 testing and treatment are covered by both Medical Assistance and CHIP. Medical Assistance and CHIP enroll individuals throughout the year and do not have a limited or special enrollment period, so people needing health coverage can apply for these programs at any time. There are income limits for Medical Assistance, but all children qualify for comprehensive health, vision, and dental coverage through CHIP regardless of their parents’ income as long as they do not qualify for Medical Assistance.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a cash assistance program for low-income families with dependent children or people who are pregnant. TANF is designed to help families meet essential needs while connecting parents to employment, training, and education programs that can help the family improve their circumstances and move out of poverty.

Applications for LIHEAP, SNAP, Medical Assistance, CHIP, TANF, and other public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. SNAP and Medicaid applications are accepted by phone by calling the Consumer Service Center at 1-866-550-4355. On-site County Assistance Office (CAO) services are available if clients cannot access online services or need assistance that cannot be accessed through the COMPASS website, the myCOMPASS PA mobile app, or by calling the Customer Service Centers at 215-560-7226 for Philadelphia clients or 1-877-395-8930 for clients in all other counties.

All Pennsylvanians experiencing financial hardships due to the pandemic, a lost job, or a change in income are strongly encouraged to apply and see if they qualify for assistance with food, health care, and other essential needs.

“In addition to meeting our basic needs like food and shelter, sometimes we need emotional and mental health support, too. This time of year is often about gathering together, but there are those of us who still may be separated from loved ones, whose celebrations may not look the same as they did a few years ago, or who are grieving the loss of loved ones or the changes to our lives that have been happening for almost two years,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “You do not have to go through these feelings alone. If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, we can help.”

Mental Health resources are available 24/7 through Pennsylvania’s Support and Referral Helpline by calling 1-855-284-2494, or for TTY, dialing 724-631-5600. The helpline is staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers who will be available to counsel struggling Pennsylvanians and refer them to resources in their community that can further help to meet individual needs. Help is also available via text through the Crisis Text Line by texting PA to 741-741.

To learn more about all DHS programs, visit dhs.pa.gov.

Reminder: PDE RISC Quarter 2 Reporting Window Open (December 3, 2021)

On BSE Director Carole L. Clancy disseminated a PennLink titled 2021-22 School Year Restraint Information System Collection Tracking and Training Second Quarter Reporting Window. It stated that the Restraint Information System Collection (RISC) is open for data entry for the first quarter (restraints occurring between October 1 – January 1 of the 2021-22 school year). The system has been enhanced and gives local education agencies (LEAs) greater opportunity to provide both more detail about restraints and to analyze trends in reducing the use of physical restraints.

Throughout the 2021-22 school year, LEAs will be required to report RISC data regardless of their instructional delivery method (in-person, virtual, blended, etc.). This will also include reporting zero restraints during a quarter when restraints did not occur.

In addition, LEAs are still required to comply with 22 Pa. Code § 14.133(f) or 22 Pa. Code § 711.46(f) Positive Behavior Support related to training of personnel in specific procedures, methods and techniques. However, 22 Pa. Code § 14.133(f) and 22 Pa. Code § 711.46(f) Positive Behavior Support does not require LEAs to acquire certification in this process and leaves this up to the LEAs and their specific training model. The training of personnel should provide varied intervention and strategies needed to address problem behaviors. These types of intervention chosen for a specific student or eligible young child shall be the least intrusive necessary. The use of restraints is considered a measure of last resort, only to be used after other less restrictive measures, including de-escalation techniques.

The Bureau of Special Education (BSE) continues to require LEAs to report the restraints that occurred in each quarter. This reporting process permits LEAs to report restraints in a timely manner which, in turn, allows LEAs to monitor patterns of episodic behaviors and address them accordingly. The quarterly windows of reporting for the 2021-22 school year are as follows:

Qtr 2
Begin Date: 10/01/2021
End Date: 12/31/2021
Last Day to Report: 01/15/2022
Zero Window Opens: 01/01/2022
Zero Window Closes: 01/15/2022

Qtr 3
Begin Date: 01/01/2022
End Date: 03/31/2022
Last Day to Report: 04/15/2022
Zero Window Opens: 04/01/2022
Zero Window Closes: 04/15/2022

Qtr 4
Begin Date: 04/01/2022
End Date: 06/30/2022|
Last Day to Report: 07/15/2022
Zero Window Opens: 07/01/2022
Zero Window Closes: 07/15/2022

The RISC reporting design provides an “End Date” for LEAs to comply with their end of quarterly reporting. In addition, there is a two-week window date labeled “Last Day to Report” to allow LEAs to gather and report on those students that attend an out-of-district facility where they were placed in a restraint during that quarter. This two-week period is also a designated time for LEAs that had no restraints during the quarter to report zero in RISC. BSE will continue to send out reminder PENN*LINKS about this quarterly reporting requirement.

BSE will monitor the restraint information reported by LEAs. RISC requires each LEA to report the event that occurred prior to the incident, the incident, the unsafe behavior, and the de-escalation techniques utilized. The LEA must notify the parent(s)/guardians of the use of a restraint and schedule an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting within 10 school days of the use of the restraint in the educational program, unless the parent(s)/guardians, after written notice, agree(s) in writing to waive the IEP meeting. Additionally, restraints occurring during Extended School Year sessions should be reported within three weeks of the start of the school year.

In reviewing restraints submitted in RISC of school-age IEP students, the Special Education Advisers of BSE will continue to focus on LEA monitoring responsibilities, as well as:

  • Training of staff in de-escalation techniques;
  • Excessive time of restraint;
  • Excessive use of parent waivers;
  • Mechanical restraints;
  • Injuries;
  • Number of restraints;
  • 10-day window (school days) to convene an IEP meeting after a restraint occurs; and
  • Handcuffing of students or students charged with a safe school’s offense.

A RISC reporting webinar is posted on the RISC website: apps.leaderservices.com/_risc/index.aspx. The RISC reporting webinar link is located below the login box of the Leader Services RISC sign-in page. This webinar explains the reporting process and how to use the RISC system. The webinar also shares how to update your LEA’s contact information. All parties involved with RISC are highly encouraged to view this webinar to learn how to report restraints, how to use the system, and to understand the regulatory responsibility of LEAs.

Additionally, BSE’s “Guidelines for De-escalation and the Use of/and Reporting of Restraints in Education Entities” is available for review on the RISC website.

Questions regarding RISC should be directed to Keith Focht: 717-783-6921 or kfocht@pa.gov.

PA Supreme Court Temporarily Reinstates K-12 School Mask Order (December 1, 2021)

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, the PA Supreme Court reinstated the mandate imposed by the PA Department of Health requiring students and school staff to wear masks in the K-12 school environment. The reinstatement is in effect at least until the court hears arguments on December 8, 2021.

In early November, despite Governor Wolf’s decision to allow school districts to modify or end the mask mandate for K-12 schools on January 17, 2022, a Commonwealth Court judge ordered the mandate to be lifted on December 4, 2021. Governor Wolf appealed that decision, sending the matter to the PA Supreme Court.

PA State Board Meeting Highlights Include Staff Shortage Concerns (November 18, 2021)

On Wednesday, November 17, 2021, the PA State Board of Education met via virtual means. During the meeting, Ed Sec Dr. Noe Ortega reported that schools are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic. He highlighted the shortages being felt in all staffing areas and stated that PennDOT and the PA School Bus Association have been collaborating with PDE to address the shortage of school bus drivers.

Sec Ortega also said that efforts continue to place COVID-19 mitigation strategies under increased local control. PDE is also endeavoring to measure the impact/effectiveness of ESSR monies, including the identification and sharing of best practices regarding the use of those funds. He also said that efforts regarding addressing the pandemic have resulted in students getting back to the classroom for in-person learning.

The Board and Sec Ortega also discussed the exiting of superintendents and other school leaders from the profession and expressed concerns regarding increased stressors being experienced by those in the field of education. Sec Ortega stated shortages in schools in all areas point out the need to get more people into the “pipeline” for achieving the necessary certifications to attain positions in the school setting.

The Board also heard presentations on Pennsylvania’s pass rates on elementary content teacher licensing tests; the Act 101 Program Report for 2020-21; a report from the College Textbook Policies Advisory Committee; and the annual report of the Professional Standards and Practices Committee. With regard to the latter, a summary of 2020 cases was provided;  it was reported that the state has amended the Code of Professional Conduct and Practices, which went into effect in May 2021; and a focus has been placed on electronic communications between staff and students.  With regard to the act 101 report, it was stated the CARES funding tripled the amount available for 2020-21.

To view the meeting agenda, click here.

The next State Board of Ed meeting will be held on January 12-13, 2022.