DOH, PDE Recommend Hybrid Learning Model for Elementary Students

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HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education announced today updated recommendations for instructional models based on community spread.

Previously, any district within a county under the “substantial” level of community transmission was recommended to go full remote learning. Beginning Jan. 25, that recommendation will be modified to either hybrid/blended learning for elementary students only, or full remote learning.

Fully remote learning remains recommended for middle and high schools in the substantial level counties. K-12 schools may also consider bringing back targeted student populations for in-person instruction, regardless of what general instructional model they are utilizing.

“The research on offering in-person instruction during COVID-19 continues to emerge,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.”

These updated recommendations are intended to help schools begin the process of safely returning as many students as possible to in-person instruction during the 2020-21 academic year.

“The commitment our educational leaders have shown towards mitigation efforts is noteworthy and helps us support returning many of our youngest and most vulnerable students to some level of in-person instruction,” said Acting PDE Secretary Noe Ortega. “We must remember that a safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school and county depending on a variety of local factors.”

The Warren County School District has most students in a fully remote model until Jan. 26. The first regular school board meeting of 2021 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.

Public school entities in counties in the substantial level of community transmission are required to sign an attestation form affirming that if they are providing any type of in-person instruction, that they are following the DOH face-covering order and DOH guidance on how to handle confirmed cases in buildings. All required schools have completed and submitted an attestation form.

Warren County has been in the “substantial”  level of community spread since Nov. 23.

The state introduced the transmission levels in July as a way to measure the community spread of COVID-19. The tiers are based on incidence rate per 100,000 residents and PCR percent positivity over a 7-day period.

Those counties with “low” levels of community transmission have less than 10 incidents per 100,000 and less than five percent PCR positivity. “Moderate” levels are between 10 and 99 incidents per 100,000 or five to 10 percent PCR positivity. Those with “substantial” transmission have 100 or more incidents per 100,000 or more than 10 percent PCR positivity.

PDE encouraged schools to use the levels as part of determining whether to have full in-school learning, remote learning or a blended learning model. Based on the PDE recommendations, districts in counties with “low” transmission are recommended to use full in-person or blended learning. Districts in counties with “moderate” levels are recommended for blended or full remote learning.

As of Friday, Jan. 1, all 67 counties were in the substantial level.