100% ESSENTIAL: Donate now and support our urgent public-service journalism about the coronavirus
Map of latest Pa. coronavirus cases, county-by-county numbers
Coronavirus

Gov. Tom Wolf orders Pennsylvania schools closed through rest of academic year

by |

Secretary Pedro Rivera said the Department of Education doesn’t have the power to compel school districts to continue educating students.
Commonwealth Media Services

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced that Pennsylvania schools will stay closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While schools are being urged to continue educating students while they remain at home, the state Department of Education is not able to force districts to do so.

“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employees, and families.”

The decision applies to “all public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers, and intermediate units,” according to the governor’s office. Colleges and universities will not be allowed to reopen their physical locations until Wolf lifts the closure of businesses not deemed “life sustaining” or releases a separate order.

The governor had previously said that Pennsylvania schools would be closed indefinitely — an extended shutdown that began when Wolf on March 13 ordered schools closed for two weeks.

Since then, schools across the state have been grappling with how to continue instructing students at home. Some districts began a learning program the first week schools were closed, while others have yet to launch formal online instruction.

Wolf’s administration said schools “are strongly encouraged to provide continuity of education for all students in the most appropriate and accessible ways possible.”

But according to Secretary Pedro Rivera, the Department of Education doesn’t have the power to mandate that.

Instead, he asked the media and community members on Thursday to keep school districts accountable by reviewing their continuity of education plans, which districts are now required to post online.

“As a former superintendent, there is no better influence than a parent or local leader looking at your plan online and asking,” Rivera said.

Rivera said the department is setting strong expectations for school districts. “This is absolutely not a day off for students,” he said.

More than 200 school district are utilizing an online platform provided free of charge by the state’s intermediate units, according to Rivera.

Inquirer staff writer Maddie Hanna and Spotlight PA’s Sarah Anne Hughes contributed to this article.

100% ESSENTIAL: Spotlight PA provides its journalism at no cost to newsrooms across the state as a public good to keep our communities informed and thriving. If you value this service, please give a gift today at spotlightpa.org/donate.