School bus Westmont

A bus filled with students arrives at Westmont Elementary School on Friday, March 13, 2020. Later in the day, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvania schools to close for 10 business days beginning Monday due to the coronavirus.

A recently released document from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) providing additional COVID-19 pandemic guidance also offered support for when schools reopen later this year.

Near the end of the 60-page document, the heading “Interim Guidance for Schools and Day Camps” begins a three-step program to “scale up operations.”

Thomas Butler, Intermediate Unit 8 executive director, thinks the guidelines should help local districts make good decisions when dealing with the logistics of returning to school.

“They are the best attempt by the federal government to offer advice as schools consider different reopening strategies,” Butler said. “Schools will determine the best reopening strategy based on a decision framework, including the information from the CDC.”

The first step focuses on remaining closed and how to continue education and meal programs, while the second and third steps provide recommendations on what to do when schools are open again.

“Communities with low levels of COVID-19 spread, and those with confidence that the incidence of infection is genuinely low, ... may put in place the practices described below as part of a gradual scale up of operations,” the document reads. “All decisions about

following these recommendations should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other state and local authorities, who can help assess the current level of mitigation needed.”

Educational institutions across Pennsylvania have been shuttered since March

and weren’t able to reopen this academic year.

Pedro Rivera, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, is advising schools to plan on students returning to the facilities in the fall for a new year.

According to the CDC, these guidelines should assist with that effort.

The steps gradually decrease mitigation measures, while advising vigilance and increased sanitation efforts.

There’s also information about what to do in case someone in a district tests positive for COVID-19.

In this instance, the CDC recommends closing for one to two days in order to clean and disinfect the building.

Within step two, the guidelines remain rather strict, requiring that student groups not mix and communal areas remain closed.

On school buses, students should practice social distancing with one child per seat in every other row where possible.

In step three, schools should limit gatherings, events and extracurricular activities, keep groups of students together with minimal mixing each day, and staggering arrival and drop-off times and locations, among other options, according to the CDC.

Recommendations that apply to both steps two and three include having belongings remain separated and taken home daily to be cleaned, ensuring adequate materials, such as art supplies, are on hand and avoiding the sharing of electronics, books and other learning aids. 

Additionally, if it’s feasible, daily health checks of staff and students should be completed “in compliance with any applicable privacy laws or regulations.”

This would include temperature screenings and checking for virus symptoms. 

The CDC also suggests that schools have a plan in place for the chance that a child, staff member or visitor becomes sick.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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