Back to School in a Pandemic: What you Need to Know about Local Decisions

Posted Aug 13, 2020, by Heaven Sensky

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As if all of the hustle of getting back to school isn’t enough to overwhelm a family as it is, people are facing uncertainty about what school might look like for their kids amidst the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are certainly differing opinions across our community about what ‘safety” might and should look like in the education system at this time, uncertainty of when and how kids will be in school has existential impacts on working-class families. We at CCJ know the importance of certainty and planning for members of our community. We put together this resource to help folks understand what their district might be doing and what guidelines they’re required to follow.

All of the school districts in our region have put forth a plan for instruction this fall, and all are offering some formulation of “distanced” learning; some that will be mandated, some that people can opt into by choice. We know that parents are concerned about the quality of distance learning their children may receive, particularly after experiencing the at-a-whim distance learning in the spring from our local schools. That said, to ensure that families receive the technological and internet support they may need, we encourage residents to contact their local schools and teachers to voice their needs and concerns for access to laptops and internet resources in the event that they must utilize distance learning. Many schools are already actively offering options for Chrome books and internet access.

Local school district leadership and teachers have been working tirelessly throughout the summer to supply teachers with resources and to plan ahead to make sure that our kids have access to the highest quality education possible under these trying circumstances.

That said, while some families may be considering opting into the PA Cyber Charter school, we at CCJ want people to know what kind of long-term impact this might have on our communities. When a student opts into PA Cyber, their public school is required to pay the cost of that student’s education to PA Cyber. This cost varies from school district to school district, as the cost required for each student is essentially 70% of  the entire school district budget divided by the number of students, regardless of the cost of educating via PA Cyber. This means that when students opt into PA Cyber, even if temporarily, their public school loses funding on a large scale. This could over the long term impact the quality of our local public schools, as opting into PA Cyber drains public resources. The highest impacts of this loss of revenue will be felt by smaller school districts, whose individual “per pupil” spending is larger, often due to the cost of rural transportation.  

Here’s what you should know about state guidance for school openings:

  • Governor Wolf has suggested that all sports be postponed through 2021, reflective of the CDC considerations for youth sports.

  • Governor Wolf has also suggested that in-person school should be postponed.

  • The Department of Education has put forth guidelines for schools to follow based on the County “phasing” system. The following are broad descriptions of the guidelines.

    • If a county is in the Red phase, schools must abide by the following:

      • Schools remain closed for in-person instruction and all instruction must be provided via remote learning, whether using digital or non-digital platforms.

      • Provisions for student services such as school meal programs will continue.

    • If a county is in the Yellow phase, schools must abide by the following:

      • Schools may provide in-person instruction after developing a written Health and Safety Plan, securing approval by each school entity’s governing body (i.e., board of directors) and posting this plan on the school or district’s publicly available website. The plan must include a variety of expectations and planning for deep cleaning and monitoring. The full requirements can be viewed here.

    • If a county is in the Green phase, schools must abide by the following:

      • Schools may provide in-person instruction after developing a written Health and Safety Plan, securing approval by each school entity’s governing body (i.e., board of directors) and posting the plan on the school or district’s publicly available website. The full requirements can be viewed here. The requirements only differ slightly from the yellow phase.

Here’s What you Should Know about Local Decisions for School Operations:

Most local school districts have developed plans for returning to school whether it be virtual, in person, or a little bit of both. You can learn more about what’s happening in your school district via the following table. The information is tentative and may or may not be changed at any given moment, even once school is in session. The websites will remain up-to-date, but the still pages, such as .pdfs, may become outdated if the district releases another one.


  • Heaven Sensky

    Heaven Lee Sensky (she/her) is the Organizing Director with the Center for Coalfield Justice. She primarily serves Washington and Greene Counties on issues of Oil and Gas development and provides support for our organizing team. Heaven has been with CCJ for 4 years, working on a variety of campaigns serving impacted community members including advocacy around the prevalence of rare childhood cancers, the impacts of waste generated and disposed of by the oil and gas industry, and advocating for harm reduction in relation to the opioid epidemic. CCJ is organizing frontline residents through grassroots efforts to advocate for healthy communities with thriving economies. Heaven was born and raised on a small farm in Washington County where her family has resided for 5 generations. She is a first-generation college student and a graduate of American University (Washington, D.C.) with a bachelor’s degree in Communications, Law Studies, Economics, and Government. Before joining team CCJ, Heaven interned in the United States Senate and for the office of Barack and Michelle Obama. She lives with her husband Casey and her dog Olive on her family farm. Contact Heaven at heaven@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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