The Pennsylvania departments of Health and Education on Monday 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,” Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said. “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.

“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.”

Gov. Tom Wolf last week announced updated recommendations for social distancing in K-12 schools, including a reduction in the required social distancing guidelines in school settings from six fee to three feet in counties where the community transmission rate was low or moderate. Those changes took effect Monday. Universal masking remains a requirement, according to the governor’s news release.

The updated state recommendations still call for six-foot social distancing in classrooms for counties in the substantial category of community transmission.

At the time of the governor’s announcement, Westmoreland County was in the moderate level of transmission. As of the release of updated community transmission rates for the week ending April 2, Westmoreland County became one of 45 counties now in the substantial level of community transmission.

State officials stressed in Monday’s announcement that the latest 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.

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