HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The state Department of Education says it’s up to schools to decide how to handle teaching students after the governor’s shutdown order ends, which will not be before April 7. But it’s possible they are done for the year.
Pennsylvania has a proud history of local control, meaning that local districts will decide the future, not the state. That has left lots of parents confused. Why are some schools teaching and others aren’t? Will kids ever go back to school this year?
Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said on Wednesday that schools do not have to re-open since Governor Tom Wolf waived the 180-day rule. Lawmakers passed bills nixing the requirement later Wednesday afternoon.
If parents think their kids could just makeup time in July or August, think again. By law, the year cannot extend beyond June 30, according to Rivera, but he said his department is “strongly urging” districts to engage with students and keep a continuity of education.
The Pennsylvania School Board Association agrees.
“Every educator I talked to wants to get back to it. They’re anxious to figure out how best to connect with every student,” said Nathan Mains, CEO of the PSBA.
Seventh-grader Cameron Foote is already connected.
“After this Monday, it’s all systems go. Right back to normal,” said Cameron’s dad, Kevin. “We went back to school Monday. Started with a full load of classes. He’s had no issues. It’s been really good for him to go back to work It’s brought a little bit of calm.”
The Foote’s live in Dillsburg. Cameron attends Commonwealth Charter Academy. But the overwhelming number of students in Pennsylvania are not enjoying Cameron’s return to normalcy.
And there’s confusion about that. The governor ordered schools to close on March 13. One interpretation of the rule suggests students’ progress was to freeze on that date and that includes cyber schools that are otherwise able to continue functioning. For some, it’s an issue of fairness and equity among have’s and have not’s.
“You got kids with tremendous amounts of technology in-home, to kids that have no online access. Frankly, the only time they could get online was at the school, where they can’t go right now, ” Mains said.
Cyber parents don’t understand all the hand wringing. “Because we can be open I don’t know why they wouldn’t want the kids to get back to school that doesn’t make any sense,” Foote said.
Though their buildings are closed, the Coronavirus crisis has been a learning experience for schools. And they are taking notes.
“We gotta take a good hard look at some of the handcuffs that have been placed on different ways of doing business and be a little more flexible on that, so God forbid we’re hit with this again we’re able to move more quickly and not get tripped up on regulations,” Mains said.
Secretary Rivera was asked if schools will re-open after April 7. He said it depends on whether the number of Coronavirus cases continues to increase daily or the virus trends the other way.
One positive: as of Wednesday, there are 1,600 sites across the state feeding kids in need and the Education Department thanks schools, food banks and volunteers for that incredible effort.