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Pennsylvania Still Considering Closing All Schools Amid Coronavirus

“We’re currently tracking and monitoring cases in Pennsylvania but are also examining what’s happening in Ohio, Maryland and other neighboring states“We’re currently tracking and monitoring cases in Pennsylvania but are also examining what’s happening in Ohio, Maryland and other neighboring states,” state Department of Education spokesman Eric Levis said.

by Jan Murphy, pennlive.com / March 13, 2020
Shutterstock/David Prahl

(TNS) — Across the country, governors are making the difficult decision to close all schools or at least public schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But not in Pennsylvania, at least not yet. 

Instead, state Department of Education spokesman Eric Levis said, “We’re currently tracking and monitoring cases in Pennsylvania but are also examining what’s happening in Ohio, Maryland and other neighboring states.” 

As of Friday morning, Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan, and District of Columbia have closed schools for at least the next two weeks, if not longer. Kentucky’s governor has recommended that all public and private schools cease in-person classes but hasn’t mandated that to happen, according to the Washington Post. 

State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and Dr. Rachel Levine, the state Health secretary, held a webinar with superintendents on Friday morning that is soon going to be posted on the department’s website. 

Some who listened in to that online conference said there was no immediate indication that Pennsylvania would be following the lead of other states in ordering a statewide shuttering of schools but said there was a reference made about closing schools if there has been a case of exposure to the virus. 

In fact, several school districts in Pennsylvania have already done that. Lancaster School District closed on Friday due to possible exposure at two of its schools. Southern York County and Allentown also have made decisions to close their schools, along with Wyomissing and Wilson school districts in Berks County and Philadelphia schools. 

On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closing of all schools in Montgomery County along with other facilities, which is seen as the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s outbreak of COVID-19 cases, starting today. 

Lower Dauphin School District spokesman Jim Hazen said after the morning webinar, district officials there “are examining all of our options.” A couple of activities planned for Friday were postponed. 

Unlike other districts that had received the education department’s approval to have up to five flexible instruction days that allow students to receive instruction online and have the days count toward the state’s 180 instructional days mandate, Lower Dauphin did not apply by the deadline. 

Hazen said the district is waiting to see if the state relaxes that regulation to allows districts like his to consider that option. In the meantime, he said, “we are looking at ways for continuity of instruction.” 

Cumberland Valley School District, meanwhile, posted on its website it is considering a “student day” on March 20 but a final decision would be made by today. “If it appears that school may be closed for a length of time after March 20, 2020, we would likely have students attend on the 20th of March. A specific notification related to this will be sent to families and staff by the end of the day on Friday, March 13, 2020,” the website states. 

West Shore School District Superintendent Todd Stoltz issued a statement on Thursday, stating he was heeding Wolf’s directive and cancelling or postponing “after-school events expected to attract 250+ attendees for the next two weeks. Additionally, we are reviewing all trips planned in the upcoming weeks, including their destination and number of attendees, to determine if students will be permitted to attend.” 

Other school districts have directed teachers to begin making lesson preparations in the event school closures become necessary. 

Jan Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@pennlive.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy. 

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