While Pennsylvania school districts are open again for the time being, students who test positive for COVID-19 and other students who come into close contact with them are being kept at home for up to 10 days in quarantine.
“There are thousands of children sitting at home with no instruction waiting for their days to pass,” said Beth Ann Rosica, executive director of Back to School PA PAC, a group that funded candidates in the November school board elections who believed in keeping kids in school.
“If kids are vaccinated the quarantine can be for a lesser amount of time,” said Rosica. “Most of the time students must stay home for 10 days if they test positive for COVID, But sometimes it’s seven days and sometimes it’s five days. There is no rhyme or reason to what’s happening.”
Langley Barnes, whose son Jordan, 7, is in second grade in the West Chester Area School District, said he’s been quarantined once so far, the week before Thanksgiving. Now she fears there will be more quarantine weeks as the school year goes on.
“I’m a full-time, single parent,” said Barnes. “I’m lucky that I work at home and have a super-flexible job.”
But it’s difficult for her to teach Jordan at home. He has learning differences and an individualized education plan (IEP).
Being at home rather than at school is “hard for his development,” she said. It is also very difficult for the second grader to learn even at school with teachers wearing masks because he has “auditory processing issues,” she said. Having a school year with remote learning last year did not help.
“He’s really behind and the emotional toll is hard for both of us,” she said. “He realizes he’s behind his friends (in reading). That’s tough with a 7-year-old. He doesn’t understand why.”
Meredith Mercatante’s fourth-grade twins have been home from school in the Haverford Township School District for 10 days after first one, then the other, tested positive for COVID. She had to push the school to let them log into their classrooms on Zoom. And Mercatante is frustrated that the district required her girls to be home for 10 days when they were feeling fine for the last five days.
“I reached out to see if they could come back if they tested negative,” she said. But the answer was no. The district is following the state Health Department protocol, which is from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“They were really home for a week when they were perfectly fine,” she said.
At Fox Chase Elementary School in Philadelphia, parents were told by the principal, Rob Caroselli, on Thursday that as of Friday unvaccinated children could not attend that school for 10 days for a quarantine, however unvaccinated kids could come to class.
Christina Clark, a spokeswoman for the district, said, “There were multiple days of potential COVID-19 exposure during lunch periods (at that school). In response, we were instructed by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that the entire school will need to quarantine for 10 days. Per health official guidance, those who are fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine and can therefore come to school during this time with proof of vaccination. Once this quarantine period has ended, all students regardless of vaccination status will be able to attend Fox Chase School in-person.”
“These kids have no computers,” said Rosica. “This is such discrimination. It’s horrendous.” She urged people to call Mayor Jim Kenney’s office to complain.
Rosica said, “We’re continuing to push back, with school districts and county departments of health. We’re trying to encourage parents to be vocal and make comments at school board meetings. This isn’t okay. It’s not over. There are schools still closing.”
“For us at Back to School PA it’s this issue of kids not always being in school,” said Rosica. “We are fearful as cases rise over the cold and flu season, we’re going to see more school closures.”
“It is a big deal what we’re seeing, the learning loss,” she said. “These kids are already so far behind.” If they are at home they are “doing nothing but getting further and further behind.”
For example, math class and foreign language classes are sequential, so it’s hard for them to catch up if the students have missed 10 days of instruction in those subjects.
“Last year when all this stuff happened they had the remote option to Zoom in,” Rosica said. “At least they had something to get instruction with.” But many kids are “quarantined for weeks at home and they have nothing.”
Barnes is also worried.
“Second grade is a pivotal year (for reading),” she said. “We have a neighborhood gang of kids, so that has helped (socially),” she said.
But the pandemic has clearly affected this generation of children and not just educationally.
“I’ve seen kids turn into germophobes,” she said. “We have failed our children.”