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Pennsylvania Department Of Education Releases Guidance For Fall University Reopenings

The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently released guidelines for higher education institutions and adult education programs should they choose to reopen this fall.

The guidance, separated into two sections, outlines how a university may implement a phased re-opening come the fall semester. Depending on whether an area is in the red, yellow, or green phase of the state, the guidelines for reopening may differ and are also subject to change as more information becomes available.

Institutions in the “green” phase may fully resume in-person instruction. However, non-instructional gatherings must have a limit fewer than 250 people. Beginning June 5, Pennsylvania will allow universities and other adult education programs to resume limited, in-person instruction if they are in a yellow or green phase area.

Schools that wish to resume in-person instruction in the fall must create a “Health and Safety Plan,” which includes strategies on how they will coordinate with local public health officials, monitor health conditions on its campus community, and strategize to mitigate and limit the spread of the virus.

The department also released guidelines regarding hygiene, sanitation, and face coverings on campus.

Universities should provide students with clearly posted hygiene information about areas of high traffic on campus. Hand sanitizer and wipes should be readily available for use by students, staff, and visitors.

Students, faculty, and staff should wear face coverings in any classrooms or publicly shared space. The department recommends institutions provide face coverings for as many students as possible. Those on campus should still observe social distancing practices when possible.

Additionally, universities should install plastic partitions in areas like student service counters, cash registers, or bathrooms where social distancing practices may not be feasible.

In terms of large non-instructional gatherings or congregation, the department recommends universities reduce common seating areas such as classrooms, libraries, and dining halls. Student events and meetings are advising to continue with remote hosting if possible.

The guidelines also suggested a staggered and restricted number of occupant system for the use of gyms and lounges. Further explicit information about gatherings for athletic events and socials was not provided. However, the department did advise social distancing guidelines and limited gathering sizes are still recommended.

The department suggests still limiting class size and implementing a six-foot social distancing guideline in areas where possible. This may mean that universities host smaller classes in larger areas like gyms or ballrooms.

Guidelines also suggest the use of face coverings in residence halls in any shared spaces, with the exception of a student’s individual room. For students who may have contract coronavirus or otherwise have exposure to it, universities may reserve a separate residence hall for quarantining in order to contain a potential spread.

In terms of a phased return to campus, the department suggests grouping students into potential cohorts, for example, like first-year students, a certain living or learning communities, or by major or discipline areas. Many other schools have already announced plans to implement an early return to campus or an altered semester schedule.

There are specific guidelines outlined for what a university should do if there is a confirmed coronavirus case on campus. The first step an institution must take is to report the case to the Department of Health and emergency management personnel. If there is a confirmed case, a required campus closure of between two to five days may also happen.

All areas of campus must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and the university must communicate potential exposure information to students, staff, or faculty.

Penn State President Eric Barron feels prepared to meet these guidelines and stated the university will prioritize the health of its community above all else.

“We’re grateful to have this guidance specific to higher education and we’re especially pleased that the Education Department’s expectations align with what Penn State would consider essential to welcome students and employees back to our campuses,” Barron said. “This guidance will be helpful as we continue to scenario plan and we are committed to meeting and, where possible, exceeding all of the department’s expectations before we bring students, faculty and staff back to our campuses. The health and safety of our community is the priority across all of our campuses.”

Despite the release of these guidelines, it’s still tough to predict how universities will plan for the fall. Penn State will announce its decision on the state of the fall semester by June 15.

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a junior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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