OP-ED: Students deserve more than garbled guidelines
Now that the new school year is underway, the Wolf administration is continuing to fail our children.
Several studies have shown that “consistency is key” in the development of children. A report from the University of Georgia notes that young minds who are in consistent environments “learn to regulate their own emotions and behavior better, because they know what to expect of the world around them.”
The pandemic has uprooted everyone’s lives, including those of our children who, without notice, were sent home from school one day, some never to return. So many schools were unprepared for that moment. Such a stark break left many students with unanswered questions about their friends, their education and their futures. The same situation also forced many parents to make the devastating and untenable choice between being full-time, in-home educators and earning a livelihood. Teachers were left to wonder how they will be able to adequately educate children in this new environment despite little experience in online learning and without the tools to do so.
While Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration had five months to come up with viable guidelines to assist school districts on responsibly reopening schools and provide the tools to them so teachers can teach and students can learn, many questions still remain. Instead of firm guidance and straight answers, what they received was conflicting recommendations stemming from Wolf’s shut-it-down mentality.
Pennsylvanians deserve better.
Children, parents, teachers and school administrators need the consistency and certainty of knowing that when schools open, they will not close again to due to the failure of government leaders to heed school leaders who have warned against a stunning lack of help from the Wolf administration.
While portions of the budget approved by the General Assembly in May, and signed by the governor, provided partial funding to certain areas of government, Republicans took the lead in intentionally prioritizing in-person learning by fully funding education for the entire year. Getting our students back in their classrooms in the fall was and remains a top priority, and Pennsylvania’s taxpayers have provided the necessary resources to help our schools reopen safely. In addition, school districts received federal CARES Act dollars to off-set COVID-19-related costs.
Unfortunately, Wolf, as he has done time and again with all issues related to COVID-19, refuses to work with the General Assembly to responsibly reopen our schools. The House and Senate held numerous hearings on reopening schools, garnering valuable input from school officials from across the state. Unfortunately, this input fell on deaf ears in the governor’s office, and the Wolf administration instead opted to rule by edict, providing school leaders not with what they needed, but rather with what they thought was best.
Not only has this had an effect on our students, but — due to the failures of the administration to provide sought-after guidance — many teachers are questioning the safety of reopening plans and returning to the classroom.
According to recent information provided by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, some teachers are considering a formal “withholding of service” from schools over their concerns stemming from a lack of clear guidance form the Wolf administration.
This is clearly unacceptable. These teachers are being paid by Pennsylvania’s dwindling tax base to return to in-person education and should not be influenced to hold a quasi-strike because the Wolf administration failed to do its job.
Without teachers returning to in-person education, public school students will be forced into the unreliable alternative of virtual learning from an education system never designed to be deployed online.
Though Wolf is doing all he can to push students and teachers into an online learning model, he has not provided the necessary tools, such as broadband, technology training and best practices, so that students are actually able to learn online. During a recent House Education Committee hearing on reopening, one of the points that stuck out to me was that cyber charter schools only have so many slots available for students. Officials testified the number of teachers and available equipment for students are the two major drivers they are factoring in when deciding how many students they can successfully enroll.
This begs the question: What exactly are taxpayers getting for their investment in public education?
Online learning is a great option for some students, but they must be provided with the appropriate equipment and access to technology. For other students, they may be better suited for a brick-and-mortar school.
By failing to provide clear guidance asked for by school leaders; by failing to work with the General Assembly on a safe reopening plan; and by failing to provide certainty to our children, parents and teachers, the Wolf administration has failed Pennsylvanians.
For the sake of our children’s education and their future, this cannot be allowed to continue.
— Dawn Keefer is a Republican representing Pennsylvania's 92nd Legislative District.