HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania’s top education official said Monday the state fully intends to reopen schools to students in the fall.
Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, speaking at a Senate Education Committee hearing Monday, said the state is working to open schools to students in the fall. Schools have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re looking at best-case scenario, but we’re also preparing for worst-case scenario,” Rivera said. “It’s fully our intent that we’re going to be in a place where we are going to open schools for students in the next academic year.”
During the hearing, Rivera downplayed comments made in late April that left the prospect of a fall reopening up in the air.
Rivera said as officials prepare to open schools, they’ll be closely watching the data to ensure the safety of all students and staff.
The development comes a week after State House Speaker Mike Turzai sent Rivera a sharply worded letter, demanding schools open in the fall. Turzai said Rivera was disregarding the impact a long-term closure would have on millions of families. “Instead of providing direction and even hope, your statements are fostering depression, anxiety and hopelessness. That is not the way to govern and lead.”
The committee hearing was held specifically to discuss the future of education during the pandemic.
“It is time for a path forward, and the chance to speak to the thousands of parents across this Commonwealth who are yearning for guidance, for hope, for a return to education for their children,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Wayne Langerholc. “We know that path will not look the same as it did a year ago, six months ago, even two months ago. What we do know is that we are three months away from the beginning of a new academic year.”
Langerholc said that as the state prepares for a return to work, it also must prepare for a safe return to school. “Our children are our most precious asset, and nothing less than knowing they are safe will be acceptable,” he said.
Educators across the state agree that schools will likely look different in the fall, however. Several options are being considered, including staggered scheduling and social distancing guidelines.
“I can’t imagine that we would have a structure in place to mandate any one strategy to all school districts across the Commonwealth,” Rivera said. Rather, the state will provide a framework that will allow districts to choose from multiple strategies that work best for their students and the current local health situation.”
You can view the full hearing here.
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