Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Information will be updated on this page as it's made available - please check back frequently.
Page last updated: 10:30am on March 18, 2020
1. What schools are closed?
This specific question/response was last updated on March 16, 2020 at 9am and will be updated shortly to reflect Governor Wolf's directive, announced March 16, 2020 at 2pm, expanding aggressive social distancing across every county in Pennsylvania.
Statewide: all public K-12 schools, including brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), and intermediate units (IUs); childcare centers operating within any of the above schools; all universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (in-person instruction is suspended at all PASSHE universities through March 29 – students and staff should consult their local university for more information). All other schools (including private, parochial, and institutions of higher education) should be consulted directly for the most current closure information.
Within counties under aggressive social distancing guidelines: all schools – including private, parochial, and institutions of higher education – are required to close.
2. How should schools with residential programs modify their programs due to closure?
The Governor’s directive closing all public and private schools extends to in-person educational programming for students in non-educational placements such as residential facilities, detention centers, and hospital settings. Such programs may choose to offer continuity of education that does not involve in-person instruction in accordance with applicable standards and requirements.
3. What staff may schools deem essential?
These decisions should be made locally, in the context of school and community needs. Examples of essential responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, school administration, food preparation and distribution, information technology, and continuity of operations (e.g., payroll, and building operations).
4. What are the consequences for districts/schools that don’t meet the 180-day/hours (990/900/450) requirements?
PDE will not penalize districts/schools that fail to meet the minimum 180-day/hours (990/900/450) requirements as a result of COVID-19 response efforts. PDE will provide a simplified form that districts/schools can use to report any shortfall in days or hours.
5. Recognizing that schools will not be penalized for failing to meet the minimum 180-day/hours (990, 900, 450) requirement because of COVID-19 response efforts, must schools adjust their calendars to meet those requirements?
No; however, schools are strongly encouraged to plan possible adjustments to their calendars (e.g., use of snow days, Act 80 days, extension of school year, etc.) to provide as much instruction as possible during this unprecedented event. Once PDE develops additional guidance, schools falling short of the 180-day/instructional hour requirements will be required to report their total days and hours for the year on a simplified form; completed forms will be deemed approved.
Meals for Children
6. How will students access meals while schools are closed?
Pennsylvania sought and received approval from the Federal government to allow schools the option to distribute meals at no cost while schools are closed. Districts/schools that want to act on this Federal approval must apply to PDE. PDE has begun and continues to expedite approvals. Districts/schools may utilize essential staff to ensure students have access to meals.
PDE is partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, other state agencies, the American Red Cross, and public and private partners to expand these efforts.
7. Are volunteers who assist in food distribution and/or delivery to children required to have clearances under the Child Protective Services Act?
The Child Protective Services Act requires clearances only when a volunteer has “direct volunteer contact” which is defined as “the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children and routine interaction with children.” Volunteers who are distributing and/or delivering food are not in charge of the child’s care, supervision, guidance, or control; as such, they do not require clearances.
Continuity of Education
8. Are schools required to provide any type of instruction during the closure of schools due to COVID-19 response efforts?
No. PDE recognizes that the rapidly evolving pandemic may make it impossible to implement continuity of education plans. Although not required, many schools have plans, or are creating plans, to provide continuity of education. Intermediate units are preparing to offer technical assistance for schools interested in developing such plans; that support will be available by Friday, March 20.
9. For school entities considering continuity of education, what options are available?
Educational services may continue in a variety of ways, including: Flexible Instruction Days for districts/schools with approved plans; online/digital learning opportunities; non-digital learning opportunities (e.g., materials sent home with students). The decision to employ one or more of these methods of continuity of education is to be made at the local level based on feasibility, availability of resources, access and equity considerations, and the Commonwealth’s social distancing recommendations.
Whatever decision is made, LEAs must ensure full access to learning for all students, with particular attention to free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities and English as a second language (ESL) services for English Learners.
10. When schools elect to provide continuity of education, using any of the options described above, will these days/hours count toward the 180-day/hours (990/900/450) requirement?
When providing continuity of education during closure, schools may offer opportunities in varying degrees of intensity, from enrichment and review to full instructional days (which includes meeting all required coursework and FAPE for students with disabilities and ESL services for English Learners), in accordance with aggressive social distancing guidance. When schools are providing full instructional days for all students, that time can count toward the 180-day requirement. Although enrichment and review do not count toward day/hour requirements, schools are strongly encouraged to provide as many instructional opportunities to students as possible during the closure.
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
11. Is a school required to continue to provide FAPE to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by COVID-19 response efforts?
When a school is closed because of COVID-19 response efforts and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, the school is not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that closure period. Once school resumes, the district/school must provide special education and related services to the child in accordance with the child’s individualized education program (IEP) or Section 504 plan.
When a school is closed because of COVID-19 response efforts and does provide educational services to the general student population, the school must ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. In addition, districts/schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP or Section 504 plan.
Once school resumes, a child’s IEP team (or appropriate personnel under Section 504) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed, consistent with applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost during the closure within a reasonable timeframe.
12. Will Early Intervention services be offered while schools are closed?
Preschool Early Intervention programs should suspend all services to children and families in alignment with public K-12 closures. If the Preschool Early Intervention administrative offices are open while Preschool Early Intervention services are suspended, referrals to Early Intervention should continue to be managed by the program; once services resume, referrals can proceed.
Pre-K Counts/Head Start
13. Are PA Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Programs expected to close?
PA Pre-K Counts (PKC) and Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) Grantees operating within a K-12 building should close in alignment with the closure of all public schools. Those grantees operating PKC or HSSAP in community-based settings have the discretion to continue to operate unless the county is under aggressive social distancing guidelines (Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester counties as of March 14).
In order to track program impacts, closures must be reported to both the Preschool Program Specialist assigned to each grant and to the Office of Child Development and Early Learning: RA-PWOCDELFacilClose@pa.gov.
14. Are public school entities required to continue nonpublic school transportation services while those public schools are closed during COVID-19 response efforts?
No. To further the Commonwealth's social distancing guidance, public schools will not provide any transportation services.
15. What should schools expect in terms of this year's statewide assessments given the statewide closure of schools?
Administration of statewide assessments (PSSAs, Keystone Exams, Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment) is required under Federal law. As of March 14, the Federal government (U.S. Department of Education (USDE)) has not waived statewide assessments that would typically begin later this spring – PSSA testing is scheduled to begin April 20; Keystone testing is scheduled to begin May 11.
USDE has acknowledged that certain assessment requirements might not be practical given this unique national situation; as such, USDE will consider waivers such as: a one-year waiver of the assessment requirements for those schools impacted by these extraordinary circumstances; a one-year waiver for an impacted school to not factor the 95% participation rate into its Academic Achievement indicator; a one-year waiver to exclude the Regular Attendance indicator from Pennsylvania's accountability system.
PDE is monitoring emerging Federal guidance, working with other states to advocate for flexibility, and will pursue appropriate waivers to the fullest extent allowable as soon as USDE guidance is clarified. PDE will continue to provide updates as they are available.
16. Will PDE waive field experience requirements for teacher candidates?
The Wolf Administration is committed to working with the General Assembly to enact legislation that will provide the Secretary with authority to adjust field experience and other requirements impacted by school or educator preparation program closures resulting from COVID-19 response efforts.