On March 19, 2021, the CDC revised its guidance to reduce the required social distancing from 6 to 3 feet for elementary students and for middle school and high school students in communities of low to moderate transmission rates. Effective April 5, 2021 PDE has revised its School Health and Safety Plan guidance to be in line with the CDC revised guidance.
This change only addresses the classroom, and six feet of separation is still required to the maximum extent feasible in all settings outside the classroom. For example, in congregant areas such as auditoriums, hallways, lobbies and during activities having increased exhalation such as singing, band, drama, exercise and sports. Additionally, staff to staff and staff to student separation must be 6 feet to the maximum extent feasible even though PDE recognizes that transmission in schools between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff.
PDE’s guidance does not define what is meant by the term “to the maximum extent feasible”. However, if all possible efforts to comply have been attempted and the school has identified and implemented alternative measures to 6 feet of separation to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in its schools, the school can legitimately claim it has met its obligations.
It is important to remember that this revised guidance does not impact school district responsibility with respect to contact tracing. Close contacts are individuals who have been exposed (within 6 feet distance for at least 15 consecutive minutes) to someone who is a confirmed case during the infectious period. For example, a student determined to have been seated, for 15 minutes or more, less than 6 feet from a person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 should quarantine at home and be referred for testing.
PDE has also updated its guidance for responding to cases in schools. If a school district is served by a local county or municipal health department it may be able to complete the necessary case investigation and close contacts in a shorter timeframe than the recommended PDE closures. The updated chart can be accessed from this link: https://www.education.pa.gov/Schools/safeschools/emergencyplanning/COVID-19/SchoolReopeningGuidance/ReopeningPreKto12/PublicHealthGuidance/Pages/SchoolClosureRecommentations.aspx#faqs
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to the MBM Education Law team.