PSEA president: PA school districts must follow pandemic health guidelines to keep students, staff, and visitors safe

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PSEA president: PA school districts must follow pandemic health guidelines to keep students, staff, and visitors safe

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Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
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HARRISBURG, PA (Nov. 11, 2020) – As COVID-19 cases mount, PSEA President Rich Askey renewed his call for every school district in Pennsylvania to follow state public health guidelines for school operations, including transitioning to remote learning when community transmission rates reach critical levels.

Each school district is responsible for developing a process for responding to COVID-19 cases at school, based on guidelines provided by the state departments of Health and Education. According to those guidelines, districts in counties with a “substantial” level of community spread (100 or more incidents per 100,000 or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate), should operate with a “full remote learning model.”

“The state departments of Health and Education developed these guidelines based on good science and what the infection rates are in a school’s community,” Askey said. “We must follow these guidelines to the letter. It’s the best way for us to slow the spread of this virus and keep our students, staff, and their families safe.”

At the beginning of the school year, only one county had a “substantial” level of community spread. By the end of October, that number rose to 26 counties. For the week ending Nov. 6, 38 counties had that designation.

“We commend those school districts that are working collaboratively with the state Department of Education to match their instructional models to the guidelines,” Askey said. “Those districts are placing a high priority on the health and safety of students, staff, and their families.”

But, he added, not all districts with “substantial” community spread for at least two weeks or more are following the guidelines calling for a temporary transition to remote learning.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for any school district to disregard the advice of medical professionals and scientists during a pandemic and put the safety of students, staff, and their families at risk,” he said.

“Temporarily pausing in-person instruction and transitioning to remote learning will allow students to remain on track academically without any risk to their health.

“As educators and support professionals, every PSEA member wants to be at school with their students, providing them with the best possible education. Our concern is that in-person instruction in communities with a substantial spread of the virus will put the health and safety of everyone in those school communities at risk. That is why it is so critically important for every district to follow the state guidelines.

“In a remote learning setting, educators and support staff will continue to play important roles. Teachers will continue to teach; school nurses, counselors, and other school specialists will continue to work with students; and education support professionals will continue to provide critical services like cleaning and maintaining buildings and preparing meals for students.

The health and safety of students, staff, and our families must be our top priority. We call on all school district leaders to follow the state’s guidelines to protect the health and safety of everyone in our school communities.”

Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 180,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.