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Pennsylvania ‘optimistic’ about students returning to the classroom

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(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania health officials remain optimistic that students can return to the classroom next month, even as COVID-19 cases continuing rising.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said during a Thursday news conference that guidance could change between now and the beginning of the school year in about six weeks, but that the state hoped to get kids back into school – even if they have to waive the current limit on indoor gatherings of more than 25 people.

She warned, however, that attempts to flout social distancing guidelines – such as bars serving snacks alongside alcohol to stay open – don’t help officials achieve that goal.

“By trying to skirt the rules, you’re not protecting the public health,” she said. “You’re not protecting your family and loved ones, and you’re not helping us open schools in the fall.”

It’s been an uncertain summer for the state’s 500 school districts after Gov. Tom Wolf lifted restrictions on in-person instruction in June. The Department of Education has provided only general guidelines for reopening, leaving it up to individual schools to decide how best to implement social distancing – with several preferring to teach virtually when the year starts again in late August.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), urged Wolf and the PDE to reconsider in-person instruction, citing health concerns among the 180,000 educators his union represents.

“It is extremely important for Pennsylvania’s public schools to plan for the distinct possibility that further increases in COVID-19 cases will make it impossible to safely reopen Pennsylvania’s schools for in-person instruction,” Askey wrote in the letter to Wolf on July 16. “In public education, planning is paramount to providing the very best instruction for our students.”

Wolf has signaled in the past weeks a willingness to reverse course on schools reopening if the state’s cases of COVID-19 continue rising. As of Thursday, the administration reported more than 5,000 new cases diagnosed in the last seven days alone.

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