School bus file photo

Assigned bus seats, mask breaks and no school lunch lines are all part of the joint guidelines for school reopening announced Thursday by the state Departments of Health and Education.

While each school district is able to adjust to fit their own needs, these guidelines serve as the most detailed preview provided to Pennsylvania families about how schools will look if they reopen as early as next month. 

Schools reopening -- even with these guidelines -- is reliant upon people following social distancing guidance from the Department of Health, Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during a press call Thursday. Gov. Tom Wolf said on Wednesday he’s ready to “pull the plug” on school reopenings if surges of COVID-19 cases continue to grow.

But if schools reopen as they’re scheduled to do so soon, here are a few takeaways from the new guidelines released Thursday.

What the classroom will look like

Students in classrooms should be seated six feet apart, and will be required to wear masks for the entirety of the school day, except for mask “breaks,” while at their desks, and while eating.

Schools should also seek alternative spaces to hold class, like in gyms, auditoriums or outdoors, according to the guidelines.

Transparent face coverings are recommended, so younger students or people who are deaf or hard of hearing can communicate. Individuals with a medical condition or disability are not bound to the state’s mask mandate.

The most preferred method for reopening schools is through a “hybrid” approach, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera said during Thursday’s press call. A hybrid approach could mean students have days dedicated to in-person instruction and days for remote learning.

But there is no blanket approach that would work for all schools, he added.

“A single, cookie-cutter approach to reopening schools would not work,” he said.

What transportation will look like

Before leaving for school, parents or guardians should check their child’s temperature. 

Schools should add more bus stops to limit the number of students waiting together for the bus. Students should be seated from back to front, and assigned seats by familial relationship or in the same cohort.

Buses will need to be disinfected after each run, and students should be sent directly to their classroom once they arrive at school.

If the child has a temperature higher than 100.3 degrees or coronavirus symptoms, the caregiver should not send the child to school. Students who are “medically fragile” or the staff assigned to their classrooms should also be screened once they arrive at school.

Moving around inside the school, administrators should also create “one-way traffic” patterns in hallways where possible. Lockers should be eliminated or assigned by cohort.

What lunch and extracurricular activities will look like

Goodbye to lunch lines: Students should eat in their classrooms or outdoors, rather than a cafeteria, and have individually wrapped lunches delivered, the state advises.

If students must eat lunch in a cafeteria setting, they should sit at least six feet apart and wear masks up until they begin eating. Students should be staggered, rather than sit across the table from another individual.

Schools should consider that because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, more students may be eligible for free and reduced lunches.

The number of students on a playground should be limited, and students should maintain social distancing while using playground equipment, the state suggests. Field trips should also be canceled and rescheduled for when there is “good viral control” of the coronavirus, according to the state’s guidelines.

Student-athletes, coaches and spectators will also be required to wear masks while on the sidelines and in the dugout, depending on if the sport is permitted under Wolf’s latest sports guidelines at the time.

What to Read Next