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Teachers want clarity on virus standards

Rich Askey

Pennsylvania’s teachers want to see the state government set strict standards for COVID-19 mitigation in schools.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Education Committee continued its hearings on school reopening Tuesday, with testimony from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

Legal immunity remained a common concern for many of the groups, continuing a theme from the opening day of the hearings on Tuesday. Testimony by Richard Askey, Pennsylvania State Education Association president, called for clear direction from the state as schools and colleges prepare to reopen.

“The realities of this pandemic and its impact on all aspects of our lives have tested each of us to our core,” Askey said. “These extreme circumstances have reminded each of us just how indispensable our public schools are for providing essential connections and supports within every community across the commonwealth. In a time of crisis last March, all of you — our duly elected legislators — provided schools with clarity and consistent statewide policy and protections for students, educators, and communities. We urge you to take that action again. PSEA stands ready to assist you with that task — just like we did last spring.”

Recommendations from the state’s teachers include requiring face coverings in all school settings by students and staff, providing personal protective equipment to essential school staff, require robust cleaning of facilities and a sanitation regimen in schools, require clear and detailed quarantine protocols for students and staff, require notification and contact tracing if a student or employee tests positive and, lastly, prohibit schools as polling places or require additional sanitization and ventilation if schools are used as polling places.

The PSEA is also asking for leniency in teaching certification tests since the tests haven’t been available for prospective teachers to take, allow flexibility for student teaching requirements, extend standardized testing waivers and protect employees who work in multiple buildings.

Askey requested an extension for continuing education requirements for paraprofessionals, a limit on furloughs of support staff, prohibiting furloughs of employees if too many parents opt to use online learning and make sure employees can quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19 or are caring for a family member with COVID-19.

“Equally important, we need to keep teachers serving their students,” Askey wrote. “District enrollment may be more volatile than at any time in recent memory because of this pandemic, but we expect that volatility to smooth out eventually. The very last thing we want is to lose thousands of teachers, who may leave the profession or the state forever, and be unable to meet student needs in one month or two months.”

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