USDE Releases Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook (April 9, 2021)

On April, 9, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education USDE) released Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook, which includes research-based and practical strategies to address the social, emotional, mental health, and academic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, teachers, and staff. It promotes multi-tiered systems of support, such as positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS) to help schools to proactively respond to different levels of student need.
Also, to support the equitable access and effective use of technology, the handbook states that school districts and schools should conduct ongoing surveys of students to determine the extent of access to high-speed internet and devices and the quality of that access.
According to Secretary Cardona, the USDE’s immediate focus is to provide as many tools as it can to educators to promote their success.
The first volume of the handbook was released earlier this month.

For more information from K12Dive, click here.

Source: K12 Dive.

Departments of Health, Education Update Instructional Model Recommendations for Schools (April 6, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education today announced modifications to their instructional model recommendations for Pre-K to 12 schools in response to updated guidance recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to create the conditions for a return to in-person instruction as soon as safely possible,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “Our updated instructional model recommendations create additional flexibilities for school leaders to make decisions at the local level consistent with best practices and with public health and safety at the forefront.”

In alignment with updates from the CDC, the departments recommend K-12 public schools in counties with a moderate level of community transmission of COVID-19 now consider returning students to full in-person instruction in addition to blended/hybrid learning model. Counties with a substantial level of community transmission should consider blended/hybrid learning in addition to remote learning for K-12 students.

The instructional models are available on PDE’s website.

“A safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district, and county depending on a variety of factors, one of which is the spread of COVID-19 within these communities,” Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam said. “As we look to protect the safety and well-being of school staff and students, it is critical for everyone to continue proven public health practices of washing hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing regardless of instructional model offered.”

For the week ending April 2, there were five counties in the low level of transmission, 17 counties in the moderate level of transmission, and 45 counties were in the substantial level of community transmission:

Low – Cameron, Forest, Fulton, Potter, Sullivan

Moderate – Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Indiana, Jefferson, McKean, Mercer, Snyder, Somerset, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren

Substantial – Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Butler, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland, Wyoming, York

This update is a recommendation and not a mandate. The transition of instructional models is dependent on local factors, including the size of the school building, the classroom size, resources, proportion of staff and students with special needs and underlying health conditions, and the ability to accommodate learning with equal access for all students.

The Wolf Administration continues to maintain that local school leaders are best positioned to make instructional decisions for their communities that account for the county level transmission metrics and other local factors.

The departments will continue to monitor evolving research and data and adjust recommendations and resources accordingly.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please visit the website.

BSE Extends Application Process for Special Education Plan Requirements – Identification of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities Using RTI (April 4, 2021)

On April 2, 2021, Bureau of Special Education (BSE) Director Carole L. Clancy, Director sent a PennLink to LEAs titled Special Education Plan Requirements – Identification of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities using Response to Intervention Extension. The communiqué stated that, in response to the continued burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, BSE has extended the deadline and revised the application process for utilizing Response to Intervention (RTI) to identify students with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). The deadline for school district and charter schools to apply for the 2021-2022 school year is July 1, 2021.

The revised process requires school districts and charter schools to submit the RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool as the application. Applications are submitted to the regional Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) consultant. The RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool will be used district-wide or for building levels (i.e., elementary, middle and/or high school). Additional information and the RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool are available on the PaTTAN website.  

Each LEA must partner with their local Intermediate Unit (IU) and/or respective PaTTAN Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Lead Consultant to conduct a comprehensive review using the fidelity tool, and for assistance with the process.

Completed applications must be submitted to PaTTAN MTSS regional lead consultants no later than July 1, 2021:

Upon review of all documentation, BSE will issue a letter indicating whether the application will be approved or disapproved, or if additional evidence is necessary. 

Questions related to this message may be directed to Shannon Eye, Special Education Adviser, at 814-684-2038 or sheye@pa.gov.

PDE & PDH Announce Updated K-12 Recommendations (April 1, 2021)

The Pennsylvania departments of Health (PDH) and Education (PDE) announced updated recommendations for K-12 schools on social distancing in classrooms and how to handle COVID-19 cases in school buildings. In addition, PDH also announced updated guidance on summer camps, which is mostly unchanged from what was issued last July. Updated answers to FAQs can be found here. The recommendations and guidance take effect April 5, 2021.

Updated recommendations on physical distancing

Aligning with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that reflect the latest research, Pennsylvania students may now be at least three (3) feet apart in classrooms. The previous requirement was six (6) feet. Universal masking remains a requirement.

“The department continues its efforts to work with schools to provide guidance when a case occurs,” COVID-19 Response Director Wendy Braund said. “This includes actions related to cleaning and disinfecting, isolation and quarantine recommendations, and actions to recommend the closure of schools or school buildings. We continue to encourage districts to use the to use the percent positivity in counties, as well as the number of cases in a school in the decision making process as we all work to keep Pennsylvania children safe and in school.”

K-12 school social/physical distancing measures:

  • In elementary school, students should be at least three (3) feet apart.
  • In middle and high schools, students should be at least three (3) feet apart in counties with low and moderate community transmission. In substantial counties, middle and high school students should be six (6) feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.
  • Maintain six (6) feet of distance in the following settings:
    • Between adults in the school building (teachers and staff), and between adults and students.
    • When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.
    • During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces.
    • In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.

Click to view K-12 school social/physical distancing measures.

Updated recommendations on handling COVID-19 cases in schools

The departments also updated recommendations on how school entities should handle confirmed cases of COVID-19 in school buildings. The recommendations consider the level of community transmission in each county, the number of cases among students and staff in each school building during the past 14 days and the size of the school building.

For example, the recommendation for closures to in-person learning in some instances is reduced to one to two (1-2) days from three to seven (3-7) days and five (5) days from 14 days. The closures allow for cleaning and for public health staff to direct close contacts to quarantine. 

Click to view the chart with the updated recommendations on PDE’s website.

“Our updated recommendations bring us a step closer to a full return to in-person teaching and learning across Pennsylvania,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “While recommendations on physical distancing, closures, and quarantines may have changed, the importance to adhering to all health and safety guidelines has not – it is imperative that we remain committed to protecting our students, teachers, and staff.”

While many schools are open for in-person learning, vaccinations are an important part of the Wolf Administration’s effort to get more students and teachers back in classrooms. The administration is ahead of schedule and nearly finished with a special initiative to provide teachers and school staff with an opportunity to get the voluntary, single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The state partnered with 28 intermediate units to operate vaccine clinics, with the Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare administering the vaccine.

Governor Wolf also announced yesterday that Pennsylvania is expected to receive nearly $5 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help K-12 schools returns students to classroom learning and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most.

To view the press release, click here.

USDE Holds National Safe School Reopening Summit (March 27, 2021)

On Wednesday March 24th, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona hosted a virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit for teachers, broader school and district staff, and education leaders to discuss COVID-19’s impact on K-12, and to share their experiences and best practices as schools nationwide phase back into in-person learning. The summit focused on the importance of effective communication, forging relationships with stakeholders, collaboration, and being creative and consistent with messaging.

To read more, click here.

To view the summit in its entirety, click here.