White House to Increase COVID-19 Tests Available to Schools by 10 Million per Month (January 12, 2022)

On January 12, 2022, the White House announced new initiatives that will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month. These additional tests are aimed at helping schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test to stay programs. The additional ten million tests per month will more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November 2021, which is the most recent data available. In sum, the White House is increasing COVID-19 testing for schools by:

Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools
The Administration will distribute 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open and to implement and sustain screening testing and test to stay programs in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This new allocation builds on the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program, which distributed $10 billion in resources to states to support COVID-19 testing in schools. CDC will work with states who can submit requests to receive additional tests for high-need school districts that can put these tests immediately to use. After states submit initial requests, the first shipments will be delivered later this month.

Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month
The Administration is making available lab capacity to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools to perform individual and pooled testing in classrooms nationwide. The additional testing will be delivered through the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Operation Expanded Testing (ET) program, funded by the American Rescue Plan to provide free PCR testing at schools nationwide. Three federally funded regional providers offer testing materials, supplies, and lab results and reporting at no direct cost to recipients through four regional hubs. Schools can immediately gain access to this free lab-based testing.

Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites
HHS and FEMA are working with state, territorial, and tribal partners to address testing needs in communities and stand up federal testing sites. These surge testing sites are focused on ensuring hardest-hit and highest-risk communities have equitable access to free and convenient testing. Effective immediately, as the agencies review state, territorial, and tribal requests, they will consider how these sites can support the safe operations of K-12 schools. Opportunities to support K-12 schools may include locating federal testing units on or near school grounds; establishing specific operating hours for students, their families, and school staff; or dedicating a specific portion of daily testing to school communities. By incorporating school needs, state leaders can more effectively build school testing into their requests and planning while surge test sites continue to provide robust access to communities with greatest need.

Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds
In addition to $10 billion for states to set up K-12 testing programs in the ELC program, the American Rescue Plan included $130 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund to safely reopen schools, which may be used to support school-based COVID-19 testing. To support schools that want to set up COVID-19 testing programs, the Department of Education and CDC will work with states and outside organizations to help schools make connections to testing providers that are available in their state. This includes connecting local school districts with the testing providers contracted by their states to set up COVID-19 testing in school using ELC funding. While programs vary by state, these arrangements allow schools to access testing resources quickly and coordinated with statewide activities, including accessing test supply and administration. Schools should contact their jurisdiction to join existing state efforts funded by ELC. CDC and ED will also engage school to help them learn how to set up testing programs and how they can use their American Rescue Plan funds to support them.

New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools
Last month, CDC released guidance on “test to stay,” an approach that allows students to remain safely in the classroom during their quarantine period as long as they wear masks and test at least two times in the seven days following an exposure. Test to stay programs are an effective approach for identifying and containing infection at school, and help enable schools to minimize and avoid interruptions to in-person instruction. Later this week, CDC will release additional materials for schools on how to implement test to stay programs, including a school checklist and frequently asked questions and answers. Additionally, ED and CDC will continue to provide additional opportunities for states and school districts to learn about test to stay and how to effectively implement test to stay approaches in school.

To read the official fact sheet, click here.

AFT Pennsylvania Chief Urges PDE To Re-implement COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts (January 10, 2022)

On behalf of 36,000 educators, paraprofessionals, and school staff across Pennsylvania, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Pennsylvania President Arthur G. Steinberg issued a statement on Friday, January 7, 2022 imploring the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to mandate enhanced COVID-19 mitigation or pause in-person learning until the current surge subsides.

According to Steinberg, “This week, the United States set a world record for number of COVID-19 infections recorded in a 24-hour period. Here in Pennsylvania, our number of daily cases has tripled in the past two weeks. School District across the Commonwealth face staff shortages due to outbreaks and the number of students testing positive is topping 40% in some places. Much more must be done to combat this surge that is decimating our capacity to teach.

“In-person instruction is by far the best way for students to learn and for educators to teach. In addition to the academic value of in-person learning, many students across Pennsylvania rely on free and reduced-cost lunches and breakfasts. Ideally, we would keep all schools open for in-person learning all the time. However, that has become untenable with a rising rate of infection of teachers and a shortage of qualified substitute teachers.

“Therefore, we are asking the Pennsylvania Department of Education to reinstate COVID mitigation layers in all school districts, rather than the current patchwork that exists. This includes negotiated vaccination mandates for educators and school staff, masking requirements with KN95 masks or greater, and asymptomatic and pool testing of students and staff regardless of vaccination status. If these layers of mitigation cannot be instituted in a timely manner, we believe there is no choice but to pause in-person learning for two school weeks.

“Educators and other school staff want to be in classrooms; that is where they do their best work and can tend to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. But this virus, especially the current surge, has made it nearly impossible to deliver the services our educators are tasked with delivering.”

 “Teachers want to be in classrooms with their students. And students are falling behind without in-person learning. But to reopen schools with the virus continuing to rage in this manner is irresponsible and dangerous. I urge the Secretary of Health and Acting Secretary of Education to reconsider.”

To view the press release, click here.

PDE Announces Deaf-Blind Count for 2021-22 (January 9, 2022)

On January 4, 2022, BSE Director Carole L. Clancy, Director and Lisa Parker, Director of the Bureau of Early Intervention Services and Family Supports Office of Child Development and Early Learning released a PennLink Memo titled 2021-2022 Annual Deaf-Blind Child Count for Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Students Due February 28, 2022. The memo states that annually, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs requires the Pennsylvania Deaf-Blind Project to conduct the National Deaf-Blind Child Count, formerly called the National Deaf-Blind Census. The Deaf-Blind Child Count records the number of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and students who have dual sensory impairments or who are at risk of developing dual sensory impairments, and who are enrolled in early intervention or special education as of the December 1, 2021 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) child count.

The count will be conducted beginning February 1, 2022. Early Intervention Programs and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must verify and submit their information no later than February 28, 2022. It is important for Pennsylvania to have an accurate Deaf-Blind Child Count as this information is tied to funding research, training, and technical assistance for this population of children.

Please be aware that for the Deaf-Blind Child Count, the federal definition of deaf-blindness is more inclusive and extensive than the one used for the IDEA Child Count. Children ages birth to 21 should be reported in the count if they meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and students who have a diagnosis of deaf-blindness and/or receive both vision and hearing support services;
2. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and students who have mild to profound hearing loss and vision loss with correction that still requires adaptations or modifications;
3. Infants and toddlers (ages 0-3) who have a diagnosis that places them at risk for an intellectual disability with inconsistent responses to light and sound. (At risk means a diagnosis that does not guarantee hearing/vision loss); or
4. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and students with multiple disabilities who may demonstrate inconsistent responses to light and sound.

It is important for each Early Intervention Program and LEA to participate in the Deaf-Blind Child Count.
1. If you do not have any infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or students with deaf-blindness, you will still need to log in and identify that you are not educating anyone with deaf-blindness at the present time.
2. If you are educating an infant, toddler, preschooler, or student with dual sensory impairments, you will need to either enter a new record or verify information about a child who already exists in the system.
3. School-age and preschool programs are encouraged to work closely with contracted providers (e.g., Approved Private Schools or Charter Schools for the Deaf or Blind) to ensure an accurate count of children.
4. Connecting families of children who are deaf-blind with supporting networks and information is vital. A feature of the Deaf-Blind Child Count, initiated two years ago, is a letter that you will be asked to send to the family of each child listed in your count. This letter provides information that will link them to support and information for their family.

Deaf-Blind Child Count – Approved Private School Entries
All Approved Private Schools (APSs) entered their student data prior to the Deaf-Blind Child Count being opened for Early Intervention programs, school districts, charter schools, and service providers. While there are few infants and toddlers served in an APS, you may see a child in the Deaf-Blind Child Count that has been entered by an APS. For those programs with many students who qualify, this will save them valuable time. This was done by all APSs even if there are no students who qualify for the Deaf-Blind Child Count enrolled in their school. As the Early Intervention Program or LEA for these respective children, you must either confirm that the child is your responsibility or reject the entry if the child is not within your catchment area or in the age range of children you serve. After you confirm that you are the Early Intervention Program or LEA for the child, you can update other data as necessary.  

Deaf-Blind Child Count – Early Intervention Programs
If you are the Early Intervention Program responsible for providing early intervention services to the entered child, you should confirm that the child is your responsibility. If the child is not the responsibility of your program (i.e., the child is not within your county/county joinder or in the age range of children you serve), please email dbchildcount@pattan.net.

Log In Information
The Deaf-Blind Child Count website is: https://www.leaderservices.com/_DBcensus.
The process for entering information is as follows:
1. Log in with your username and password at https://www.leaderservices.com/_DBcensus.
2. If you do not know or cannot remember your username or password for the Deaf-Blind Child Count, use the “Forget your Login Info” link on the Deaf-Blind Child Count website to have the information emailed to you or email dbchildcount@pattan.net for support.

If you have any questions regarding the data collection system or your responsibilities for entering child data into the Deaf-Blind Child Count, please email dbchildcount@pattan.net.

PDH recommends Pfizer Booster Dose for Children Ages 12 and Older Following Federal Approval (January 8, 2022)

Following the approval process by the federal government, PDH confirmed that children ages 12 and older are now eligible for a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster dose five months after completing the primary series.  

The five-month booster interval was updated from the previous authorization of six months and is applicable to anyone 12 years of age and older who received the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for their primary vaccination series.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to allow for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 to 11 years old, at least 28 days following the second dose. 

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 who are fully vaccinated and are not immunocompromised are not eligible for a third dose at this time, but PDH continues to review relevant information and studies from the FDA and CDC. 

“The virus is evolving, and we need to adapt and follow the science to stay ahead of it. The omicron variant appears to be slightly more resistant to the primary series of all approved vaccines,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said. “While it is important to become fully vaccinated, we need every eligible Pennsylvanian to get their booster dose to maximize protection for you and your loved ones.” 

While anyone 18 years and older may receive any vaccine regardless of which brand of vaccine was received for primary vaccination, those who are 5 to 17 years old are only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. 

Pennsylvania vaccine providers, including pediatricians, primary care physicians, pharmacies, and federally qualified health centers, are able to schedule booster doses and are ready to administer booster appointments now. 

To find a COVID-19 vaccine provider near you, please visit www.vaccines.gov.

PDE: Apply Now to Sponsor Summer Meals for At-Risk Students (January 8, 2022)

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is encouraging organizations across the state to help provide nutritious meals to children in low-income areas during the summer months through PDE’s Summer Food Service Program. Sponsors must apply by May 31, 2022.

Last summer, nearly 250 organizations provided nutritious meals to children at more than 2,400 locations across the state. However, to reach more children and narrow the hunger gap that summer may bring, more organizations and meal sites are needed, especially in rural areas.  

Participating organizations are reimbursed for meals served to children who live in areas in which at least 50 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. 

Participating organizations must be year-round, not-for-profit entities, which include schools, local, municipal or county governments, libraries, churches, fire and police stations, residential summer camps, and national youth sports programs. Organizations approved to sponsor the Summer Food Service Program are responsible for managing the feeding sites that provide the meals to children.

Most participating organizations may be reimbursed for up to two meals a day: lunch or dinner, and breakfast or a snack. Those serving primarily migrant children may be reimbursed for up to three meals a day. Camps may serve up to three meals per day, but they are reimbursed only for meals served to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. 

The Summer Food Service Program, which began in 1976, is a federally funded child nutrition program designed to reach those who are age 18 or younger in economically disadvantaged areas. People older than 18 who are mentally or physically handicapped and participate in public or nonprofit private programs established for the disabled are also able to receive free meals at Summer Food Service Program sites. 

For more information on becoming a participating organization or a meal site for the summer Food Service Program, view the website at www.education.pa.gov/sfsp or call 800.331.0129. 

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA. 

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the agency (state or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Program information may be made available in languages other than English. 

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at: http://www.ascr.usda.gov/complaint_filing_cust.html,  and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by: 

(1) Mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; 

(2) Fax: (202) 690-7442; or 

(3) E-mail: program.intake@usda.gov