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The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Monday that all schools in the commonwealth would remain closed through at least April 6 as a result of the COVID-19 response efforts.

The closure order could be extended beyond April 6 if necessary to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. When it’s determined that students can return to school, administrators, teachers and other staff will be given two days to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias, schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return on the third day.

Tunkhannock Area Superintendent Heather McPherson said Monday afternoon, she appreciated the directive, and announced that a school board meeting set for Thursday, March 26, had been cancelled, and would be rescheduled in April.

She said the district was looking to have virtual meetings in the interest of the health and safety of all concerned.

Lackawanna Trail Superintendent Matt Rakauskas posted a note on the district’s website, that noted if the directive ended April 6, his reading was that teachers would be in the buildings April 7 and 8 to ready them for students.

Elk Lake Superintendent Ken Cuomo posted a note on that district’s website at www.elklakeschool.org “Under the new timeline, school buildings would reopen on April 7 for two days to allow school administrators, teachers and other staff time to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return to school on April 9, unless extending the closure is needed in response to the situation with the virus at that time. All sports and activities remain canceled. This situation is changing daily. We will do the best that we can to keep the school community informed.”

According to a PDE press release for all of the state’s schools, Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said, “Protecting the health and safety of students, families, teachers and all employees who work in our schools is paramount during this national health crisis and we must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus. The number of positive cases increases daily and we’re seeing it spread to more counties. We must adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Extending the closure will help every community in its efforts to mitigate the spread.”

To assist schools during the extended closure, Secretary Rivera said the state’s 29 intermediate units are ready to provide technical assistance to help develop continuity of education plans for all students.

“We know students are eager to engage with their teachers and return to learning,” he said on Monday. “Beginning tomorrow, all schools will be able to work with their local intermediate unit to develop instructional plans for all students, including those with disabilities and English language learners.”

Also Monday, Secretary Rivera cancelled standardized testing for students in career and technical education programs for the 2019-20 school year. These include exams from the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute and National Institute of Metalworking Skills.

Last Thursday the department cancelled all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year, as well as the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment. The U.S. Department of Education approved Pennsylvania’s waiver request the following day, and further waived accountability and reporting requirements for the 2019-20 school year.

The department has been providing ongoing guidance to school communities in the form of FAQs. The guidance information is available at education.pa.gov/COVID19.