By Kerry A. Benninghoff
With a new school year just weeks away, parents across Pennsylvania are left worrying and wondering.
Yes, as of today, schools are planning to open.
But will they remain open? Or will one day they be faced with another drop-of-the-hat closure like we experienced in March?
Children and parents need assurance and predictability.
They need schools to open safely and stay open.
They cannot once again be faced with the choice of either earning a living or being full-time, in-home teachers.
Most students can learn better inside a school building. We owe it to them to open safely and not play politics with their education or their future.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently noted that “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff.”
As a father of five, I believe children thrive best when they have certainty and consistency.
In March, we did not know how deadly this new virus might be or if our hospitals would have the capacity to treat the sick.
Now we know how the virus spreads, who is most vulnerable, that hospitals are not overrun and that most people fully recover.
Unfortunately, despite this knowledge, the Wolf administration has continued to make this pandemic political, making end-runs around the people’s representatives and issuing haphazard, confusing, unfair and damaging orders.
Pennsylvania’s students, parents, and teachers need to have confidence that all schools will open this fall and will do so safely.
If schools close again, I fear the impacts to our communities, our economy, and our public school system will be irreversible.
Parents just cannot again face the decision of providing full-time education or returning to their full-time job.
Children just cannot be left to fall through the cracks.
If we are going to be successful in opening and keeping schools open, Pennsylvania needs something that has been lacking in our COVID-19 response thus far: A cogent and uniform plan that takes into account the ideas and concerns raised by the people of Pennsylvania. What we cannot have is one man making decisions in a vacuum. What we cannot have is political gamesmanship.
The Wolf administration has provided guidelines for facial coverings, hygiene and social distancing, but with little time left before school doors should open, very real questions have yet to be answered, questions that need answered to ensure schools stay open.
What is to be done about school transportation and what will happen to students and parents reliant on bus services?
What improvements have been made to remote learning? How will accessibility for students in areas with little broadband access be provided for?
Just this past week, the governor’s Department of Education added to the confusion by piling on new guidance for school reopening, requiring schools to change plans already in the works.
Weeks away from the first day of school, there is no justification for why these questions remain.
The General Assembly has not spent the last months idle.
We have attempted to work with the governor and to raise the concerns we are hearing in our community. The governor has refused to work with us.
We passed dozens of bills to provide protections for workers, ensure hospitals are well equipped and to bring a common-sense approach to reopening.
The governor issued veto after veto.
Prioritizing our students, despite our COVID-19-induced budget constraints, the General Assembly fully funded education for the entire school year.
If we are going to begin to move forward as a state and begin the recovery process, Pennsylvania desperately needs three things:
First, our schools must open safely for the fall.
The future of our children and the livelihoods of their parents and educators depend on it.
Second, the governor needs to listen to the people and work with their representatives in the General Assembly.
Our government was not designed for one person to have all authority, not even during times of emergency.
Most importantly, people, mainly children, must take precedence over politics.
Children, parents, and educators need answers now, and they need us to work together to provide them.
We must get this right. This is about our children’s education, which is their future.
State Rep. Kerry A. Benninghoff, a Republican, represents the Centre County-based 171st House District. He is the Republican floor leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and writes from Harrisburg.