HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania schools will begin reopening soon and advocates for children say there’s a lot to consider for the quality of education as well as the safety of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state has issued guidance for school reopening, but with the deadline closing in, many districts are still finalizing their plans to keep students and school staff safe.
Some districts will be combining classroom instruction and online learning, and many parents are enrolling their children in cyber schools.
But according to Kari King, president and CEO of the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, the rapid shift to online learning last spring magnified the wide gaps between rich and poor school districts.
“As long as we’re contending with educating in a virtual environment, that inequity that we see from school district to school district is certainly going to be much more prominent,” she states.
King says many districts are providing additional technological support for students. More information about school reopening is available online at education.pa.gov.
King points out that the increased reliance on remote instruction raises additional concerns about the welfare of children. She says during the pandemic, reports of child abuse have declined, but that isn’t necessarily a positive sign.
“When students aren’t in school, they’re not in front of those mandated reporters like teachers, school nurses, so it just not as easy to see those warning signs of abuse or neglect,” she explains.
King says children’s advocates are concerned that child abuse and neglect actually may be increasing, but they are not being reported.
The state guidance for reopening schools gives districts a lot of flexibility in planning how they will ensure the health and safety of their students and staff. And King emphasizes that parents need to make choices that work for them.
“It really comes down to being a family decision and what you think is safe and secure for your child and your family,” she states.
King adds that it will be important for parents to take their children’s feelings into consideration about being safe in school or needing more social interaction when making those decisions.