Your daily coronavirus update: Students expected to return to school in fall, ed chief says

  • The Associated Press

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(Harrisburg) —  Gov. Tom Wolf’s education secretary told lawmakers on Monday that he expects students to go back to school in the fall, and the Department of Education will provide guidance in the coming weeks to prepare teachers and staff to return to school buildings.

Schools have been closed since March under Wolf’s orders to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus, keeping more than 1.7 million public school children home and exposing big differences in the ability of wealthier and poorer districts to educate children online.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, testifying in a Senate committee hearing, acknowledged that schools will need additional aid to respond to various challenges posed by school closures and the need to contain the virus.

He downplayed the notion that students might not return to school buildings in the fall. The department intends to reopen schools, but keeping students and staff safe might mean changes that involve following state Health Department recommendations, he said.

Rivera said he did not expect to require a particular approach for each school to reopen. Rather, the department will allow school districts to choose from various options to meet social distancing guidelines, Rivera said.

Those could include smaller class sizes.

In one instance, a senator raised the question about whether districts will receive more state aid to pay for more buses to accommodate social distancing.

While the department will not mandate testing in the fall after it canceled standardized tests this spring, its reopening plan will need to account for remedial education that students may need because of lost classroom time during the closures, Rivera said.

Every school district and charter school complied with the requirement to submit a plan showing how they would educate students during the school closures, Rivera said.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

Cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said Monday that it confirmed 543 more positive cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to more than 57,150, and 24 more deaths for a total of 3,731 statewide.

Residents of nursing homes and personal care homes account for more than two-thirds of the overall death toll, and about one-fifth of the overall positive tests.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have recovered.

PennLive reported that health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Pennsylvania is considering requiring nursing home personnel be tested for coronavirus two times a week, and expects to decide later this week. New York state has put such an order in place.

Lawmaker’s big gathering

A Pennsylvania state lawmaker apparently defied Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide stay-at-home order when he organized and attended a meeting with more than 150 others, the York Daily Record reported.

The meeting was at Wisehaven Event Center on Saturday evening in York County, which like 42 other counties is still under Wolf’s tightest pandemic restrictions.

The vast majority of attendees were not wearing masks, and many shook hands, hugged and sat close together, all apparently in violation of state and federal social distancing guidelines.

Rep. Mike Jones, a first-term Republican who criticized Wolf in his speech to attendees, said the meeting was meant to gauge the business community’s feelings about reopening.

Some counties amend statements about re-opening on their own

Along with Lancaster County, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties also indicated they plan to lift pandemic restrictions without Wolf’s blessing beginning this week.

Cumberland County, after making noise about reopening over the weekend, “clarified” its position Monday, saying in an open letter to residents: “This move, we are advised, has no legal basis, and would not stand up, and could actually endanger the business licenses of those who defy the state of emergency declaration.”

Lebanon County’s district attorney issued a similar statement Monday. Pier Hess Graf, who on Friday told county residents that all businesses could re-open “without fear of criminal repercussions,” followed up by saying there’s been a development.

This map shows the counties that began to reopen on May 8 (in yellow) and the counties that will begin to reopen on May 15 (in beige). The red counties will remain under a shutdown order. Click to see a larger version.

“Today, Governor Wolf explained the state might penalize your business for opening prior to the Governor’s approval … The State may revoke your license, close your business, and/or impose a civil fine. The state may also review your insurance coverage,” Graf wrote.

So, he said, his office “retains the authority to withdraw and eliminate prosecution” if a business is charged with violating the shutdown order, but it can’t do anything about whatever the state might do. He said businesses should “make the best decisions for your families.”

Berks County’s district attorney’s office said Monday that it wouldn’t prosecute charges against businesses that violate the shutdown order, but noted, “Law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office has no jurisdiction in matters of State Licensing and Civil or Administrative penalties.”

Unemployment filings near 2 million

State Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak reported that since March 15, the department has paid out 1.8 million unemployment compensation claims, according to PennLive. In that time, it has also paid out more than 201,000 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) (the extra $600 per week).

The amount paid out since March 15 is $6.8 billion.

 

 

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