On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the PA State Board of Education (Board) met via virtual means. The meeting opened with Board Chair Karen Farmer-White announcing that former state senator Andrew Dinniman will be joining as a member of the Higher Education Council.
The meeting proceeded with a presentation by the Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary and Higher Education, Dr. Tanya J. Garcia. In her presentation, Dr. Garcia spoke of the impact that COVID-19 has had on higher education. One impact has been that, usually during a recession, there is an increase in higher ed. numbers. This has not occurred due to the pandemic. According to Dr. Garcia, emergency educator certification procedures have also been implemented due to the pandemic. With regard to instruction she reported that currently 31% of colleges have in-person learning, 30% are remote learning only, and 39% are using a hybrid instructional delivery (i.e, lab work and/or classroom learning coupled with remote learning).
Higher Ed.Council Chair Dr. Jonathan Peri commented that the shelf-life of a COVID-19 discussion seems to be about a week. He also reported that the Master Plan for Higher Education is, as per the School Code, to be updated every 10 years by the council and that process will now begin. The last update was in 2005.
Acting PA Secretary of Ed. Noe Ortega addressed the Board on the effects of the pandemic on preK-12 children and the need to look at ways to safely return to in-person learning and the results of research in this area are being continuously analyzed. Secretary Ortega also spoke of the DC riots and the importance of education in playing a role in addressing such events. He mentioned teaching civic engagement and outcomes and the appropriate means of civic interaction with an awareness of the importance of altruism, volunteerism, and otherness.
In action items, the Board unanimously approved two items, which were the Board’s Annual Report to the Governor and General Assembly and the Petition of the PA Association of Independent Schools (PAIS) to extend the review cycle for one year.
The meeting concluded with an update on proposed amendments to Chapter 49 regulations (i.e., the public comment period will close on January 17th and the amended regulations will then go to the House and Senate Education Committees) and amendments to Chapter 4 regulations (which are awaiting comment from the Governor’s office).