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Back-to-School Guidance Fact Sheet for Parents


The Pennsylvania departments of Health and Education have issued guidance for schools to safely return to in-person learning for the 2020-21 school year. This guidance is meant to help schools create a safe environment for students to learn while reducing the chances of COVID-19 spread.

All Pre-K to 12 schools should develop Health and Safety Plans before having students return to school buildings and resuming in-person instruction. These plans should include comprehensive social distancing measures:

  • Among staff and other adults;
  • When using busing and transportation;
  • In classrooms regarding desks and seating arrangements;
  • In alternative spaces and hallways;
  • In outdoor playground settings;
  • During gatherings and field trips; and
  • During meals and in cafeterias,

Will My Child Have to Wear a Mask?

All students must wear a face covering (cloth mask or face shield) that covers their nose and mouth inside the school and while outside when physical distancing is not available. On July 1, 2020, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued an Order requiring all individuals to wear a face covering when leaving their homes, including while in school entities like public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units, among others.

Children two years and older are required to wear a face covering unless they have a medical or mental health condition or disability, documented in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA. Transparent face coverings allow for more visual cues and should be considered for younger students, students who are deaf and hard of hearing, and their teachers.

Schools may allow students to remove face coverings when students are:

  • Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task; or
  • At least 6 feet apart during “face-covering breaks” to last no longer than 10 minutes.

Will My Child Have to Wear a Mask During School Sports?

Coaches, athletes and spectators must wear face coverings unless they are outdoors and can consistently maintain a distance of at least 6 feet. Athletes are not required to wear face covering while actively engaged in workouts and competition that prevent the wearing of face coverings, but they must wear face coverings when on the sidelines, in the dugout, etc. and anytime social distancing is not possible.

What if My Child’s School Has a Positive COVID-19 Case?

Department of Health or county and municipal health departments (CMHDs) staff will notify the school entity immediately once it is known that a person with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 was present at the school or school event while infectious. The school should follow instructions in the guidelines to respond to the situation and will work closely with the department or CMHD on risk assessment, isolation and quarantine recommendations and other infection control recommendations.

Following the identification of a confirmed or probable case, the school should wait at least 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting and close off areas used by the sick person.

The school entity should also create a communicate system to self-report symptoms and to notify staff and families or exposures and closures.

How Will COVID-19 Impact My Child’s Attendance?

Current quarantine guidelines for close contacts of individuals with COVID-19 can pose attendance challenges for students who are quarantined because of a household contact with a case. Schools should support students and staff who are quarantined by allowing for leniency in absenteeism from in-person instruction and extra-curricular activities and transition to remote learning and work.

Can My Child’s School Close?

The Department of Health will continue to monitor community transmission rates and other surveillance metrics across the commonwealth, including Pre-K to 12 school specific outbreaks of COVID-19. Based on disease monitoring and surveillance, the department may (in coordination with the Department of Education), issue guidance related to targeted school closures as part of a wider public health mitigation strategy.

Resources for More Information

For more information, visit the department's website and the CDC website.  

Help is available, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting PA to 741-741.                                                                        

​Date created: 7/16/2020; Date updated: 8/20/2020