Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 7th 2021
Nearly a year after schools closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as many as half of Pennsylvania’s children have not returned to their classrooms.
More likely will head back soon, though, as school employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations, virus case numbers decline and health and education officials say it can be done safely.
But with time running out in the 2020-21 academic year, schools that remain in a remote model must act quickly if they are to get students a meaningful amount of in-person instruction. And with little more than a quarter of the year left before summer break, should schools even bother?
Experts and advocates say there is value in getting students back into their buildings.
“We definitely think it is worth it to send students back, no matter when the timeline would be,” said Jamie Baxter, education policy director at Allies for Children, an organization focused on the well-being of children in Allegheny County.
“There’s more than enough time to get them back in and assess their needs, and it really can give the districts an opportunity to prepare for whatever remediation or other services need to occur in the summer and then also going into the next school year.”
The push is on
Regardless of the benefit, the push to reopen schools is in full bloom as spring approaches.
Education equity advocates have stressed the importance of in-person learning for students — especially the most vulnerable children — since early in the pandemic.
Many politicians want schools to reopen so parents who have had to supervise their children in remote instruction can return to the workforce. And parents worried about the quality of education their children are getting online have called on schools to open their doors.
Those efforts have been bolstered by heath officials at various levels of government who have said schools can reopen safely if they follow scientific guidance and the new availability of vaccines for school staffers. Gov. Tom Wolf has said the state will not force teachers to return to their buildings in order to obtain the vaccine, but he expects that they will be willing to go back.
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