PA Department of Health says it’s working on communication with schools amid frustration

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By the Parish of Marley | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam speaking in July.
Credit: PA Internet News Service

Pennsylvania educators have called for better state communication on pandemic mitigation in K-12 schools; the health ministry says it is working on it.

To begin with, officials this week met with middle units, which serve as the liaison between state and school districts, to hear feedback from administrators on how best to communicate and improve response times when questions arise. pose, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said Thursday. .

“Of course this school year has raised a lot of questions with many schools operating in person, and we are doing our best to evolve our process to be more responsive,” she said.

Efforts to improve communication between the state and school administrators come a week after three educators – two senior administrators and a daycare director – said they had been placed in the middle of the Department of Health and Families while by adapting to a state-wide mandate.

“When people come in and don’t have a mask, do we cause a scene? Are we creating a security problem? Are we shutting down the event and not allowing students to participate? Michael Bromirski, the school superintendent for the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County, testified before a Senate panel last month. “It’s all those unintended consequences of deploying something without the ability to think through the implications. And this is where we – as principals – strongly advocated for the opportunity to sit down and discuss all of this. “

The biggest change between the 2020-21 school year and the current year, Beam said, is the focus on in-person learning. Last year, the majority of schools in Pennsylvania offered hybrid or distance learning models, according to state data.

“Now we’re trying to encourage schools to be safe in-person teaching,” Beam said. “In terms of the number of cases, from September 22 to 28, 2020, there were a total of 745 cases of COVID-19 in school-aged children, compared to 7,357 cases in the same age group during the same week in 2021. “

This year, the Department of Health relied on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the 2021-22 school year.

However, a team of epidemiologists – which has been used by the health ministry since the start of the pandemic – is available to answer questions from districts and help with contact tracing protocols, Beam said, adding that there are has a group of staff dedicated to communicating with schools on an individual basis.

“What we’re working on is making sure that any routine reporting to this team is separate and separate from a school raising their hand and saying, ‘I have [a] school circumstances that I need this one-on-one conversation with you, ”she said. “It will now be able to be raised and really prioritized by our team to raise awareness. “

Prior to the first day of class, Pennsylvania school boards were subjected to controversial mask policy meetings.

With the majority of districts opting for optional masking guidelines, educators were plunged into the midst of the ongoing debate over tenure when Gov. Tom Wolf and Beam announced that face coverings would be required in all public schools and schools. daycare centers, regardless of vaccination status.

The Wolf administration said it would reconsider the mandate, which is still in effect, during the first week of October. While there is no final termination date, Beam said the health ministry is evaluating school-aged COVID-19 cases and transmission rates in the community to decide when it is safe to lift the order.

The state continues its efforts to promote vaccinations against COVID-19, but no mandate is pending.

“At the moment, there are no plans to require vaccination among our educator population,” she said. “And of course, we’re really focused on having our students access it – not on the obligation right now.”

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