Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday he will not close schools or cancel classes this fall, as pressure mounts for his administration to offer more guidance on whether and how schools should reopen in the fall.
Wolf posted two tweets Friday in response to widespread rumors that he would soon announce a closure of school buildings.
“I want to be clear: I am not closing school buildings or cancelling classes,” Wolf tweeted.
Each school district in Pennsylvania has been preparing safe reopening plans individualized to their school, incorporating state guidance for social distancing and masks. Most of Lancaster County’s 17 school districts have swiftly put together and finalized reopening plans, with many schools offering in-person instruction or virtual options to students.
“School governing boards and administrators will determine if school buildings reopen and if classes resume in person, remotely, or a combination of the two,” Wolf added. “The best way to find out about these local decisions is to contact your school’s governing board or administration.”
There are widespread rumors that I will soon be announcing a statewide school building closure or cancelling classes this fall.I want to be clear: I am not closing school buildings or cancelling classes.— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) July 31, 2020
Wolf’s announcement comes after a state group of superintendents said the state’s reopening guidance is too vague and requested more concrete recommendations to help district leaders decide whether students should return to the classroom in the fall, the Associated Press reported earlier this week. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators asked for more clarity on many possible scenarios, including what to do if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said while local leaders are focused on preparing reopening plans with their school boards, more specificity in the state’s guidelines “is always better than less.” PSEA president Rich Askey wrote a letter to Wolf two weeks ago, urging him to require each school district to prepare for online instruction.
The state Departments of Education and Health released joint guidelines on July 17. This guidance encouraged school districts to distance students six feet apart, require students to wear masks except while at their desks or eating, and seek alternative spaces like gyms or outdoor areas to host class. Schools should also add more bus stops with assigned bus seats and limit the number of children on a playground, along with many other guidelines.
Reopening schools is reliant on people following social distancing guidance from the Department of Health, Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said after the guidelines were released. Wolf said in mid-July he was ready to “pull the plug” on school reopenings if surges of COVID-19 cases continue to grow.
The Lancaster County commissioners this week approved $3.5 million of the county’s appropriation from the federal coronavirus relief package to purchase personal protective equipment for the county’s school districts and Intermediate Unit #13.
While schools, families and students continue to prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year, legislators are holding more hearings. The state House education committee will host two days of hearings Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss legislative fixes requested by school organizations, like the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Reps. David Hickernell (R., West Donegal) and Mark Gillen (R., Brecknock Twp.) are both members of this committee.