Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

“It is extremely important for Pennsylvania’s public schools to plan for the distinct possibility that further increases in COVID-19 cases will make it impossible to safely reopen Pennsylvania’s schools for in-person instruction.”

The president of Pennsylvania’s education association is calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to require planning for online classroom instruction for students this fall. 

Last week, Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey sent a letter to Wolf and Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, urging them to direct the state’s schools to consider alternative plans for the fall in case the coronavirus crisis makes physically reopening schools unsafe.  

“It is extremely important for Pennsylvania’s public schools to plan for the distinct possibility that further increases in COVID-19 cases will make it impossible to safely reopen Pennsylvania’s schools for in-person instruction,” Askey wrote. 

Pennsylvania, like many states in the U.S, is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases. On Monday, Pennsylvania reported 700 new infections with three additional deaths. 

Last week, Gov. Wolf installed new restrictions on restaurants, bars, and businesses as cases increase. Wolf called it “an unsettling climb of new COVID-19 cases throughout Pennsylvania.”

In his letter to Wolf, Askey explained that public education relies on planning in order to provide students with quality education. 

“That is why it is absolutely essential that every public school entity in Pennsylvania is prepared to deliver online instruction. School entities that have not already developed plans for online instruction must immediately create them,” he wrote. “So, I ask that you use your executive authority to direct school entities to work with their local education associations and develop thorough, complete, and well-reasoned online instruction models.”

Askey also noted that teachers and education professionals very much want to return to school and instruct their students in person. But, he continued, the health risks that come with COVID-19 could prevent school buildings to reopen if the current increase continues. 

“There is absolutely no doubt that the educators and support professionals I am so proud to represent want to return to school and see their students in person. And no one knows better than educators how important it is to provide students with the highest quality learning experiences and supports,” Askey wrote.“Unfortunately, an increasing number of Pennsylvania educators and parents are concerned that reopening schools for in-person instruction poses significant health risks that, in the current environment, may be impossible to completely prevent.”

Educators across the nation have voiced their concerns at the possibility of returning to the classroom. In fact, according to a USA Today/Ipsos poll, one in five teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if they reopen in the fall. 

Several school districts in the state have released tentative reopening plans. Philadelphia plans to have students in classrooms two days a week, and several central Pennsylvania school districts are opting for similar tiered plans as well.

The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education released updated guidance last week for schools to safely reopen. Recommendations include students and staff wearing masks, social distancing of 6 feet between desks and other seating, staggering class times and creating one-way walking patterns, and limiting the number of children on playgrounds.