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The Center Square

It’s official. There will be no school in our area the rest of this school year. Or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania will close its public schools through the end of the academic year, officials announced Thursday.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed the order as the latest in a series of aggressive mitigation efforts imposed upon the state since health officials confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 6. Since then, more than 18,000 residents have tested positive for the virus and 338 have died.

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“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said.

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He said the decision was not easy, but in the best interest of students, school employees and families.

The closure impacts more than 1.7 million students at all K-12 public schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical enters and intermediate units. Early learning programs – including Pre-K Counts, the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program and Preschool Early Intervention – will stay closed, too. 

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine both support the decision as necessary to contain the spread of the virus and save lives, Wolf said.

Districts must submit continuing education plans

Rivera said districts must make their continuing education plans available to both the department and parents.

He said a few months of review and enrichment by districts such as Chambersburg’s is not enough to make sure kids are prepared for the next academic year, however.

“My expectation is that they submit those plans to us and post them for parents to review,” he said

Rivera told reporters the decision came, in part, because districts said there wasn’t enough time to prepare for students to return to class. Instead, the department has provided online learning platforms for districts free of charge to transition to remote learning.

Students living in districts with spotty access to high speed internet, computers or other necessary technology will get “pen and paper” instruction or television-based lessons.

Rivera said that is one of the department’s biggest challenges.

Districts can also apply for $5 million equity grants to help them meet the requirements of remote learning.

Even when students return to school next year, Rivera said tools put into place during this health crisis will not be forgotten.

“This is going to change the educational landscape in Pennsylvania for generations to come,” he said.

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