It started with a local effort to get kids back in school in the Hatboro-Horsham School District in Montgomery County. Now, it’s a political action committee taking this fight to one of the heavyweights in state politics: the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
The Parents for In-Person Education (PIPE4Kids) and Keeping Kids In School Political Action Committee, announced a protest rally slated for 11 a.m. on Feb. 6 in front of the PSEA’s Mideastern headquarters on Bethlehem Pike in Montgomeryville, PA.
“Many teachers who want in-person education are being silenced by their union,” the prepared statement from the Keeping Kids In School PAC states.
In the press release, Keeping Kids In School chalks up continued school closures to union politics. Besides asking frustrated parents to attend the rally, the PAC asked parents and students to send letters to PSEA President Rich Askey to let him know if they want schools to be reopened.
‘The many teachers who want in-person education are being silenced by their union,” the PAC wrote in Monday’s press release. “The hybrid model is not working and it is causing even more work and strain on these teachers that care so much for their kids.”
On Monday, President Joe Biden said he could see “anti-union [people] blaming [school closures across the nation] on the teachers. The other way to do this is to make sure schools are safe for kids and teachers and staff to be back in them.”
Biden said massive efforts to vaccinate citizens across the county, along with improved ventilation systems, sanitizing procedures, frequent testing, and personal protective equipment in all schools, are needed to make that happen.
It appears that the PSEA agrees with at least some parents and with Biden.
Askey sent a letter earlier this month to Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega and PA Secretary of Health Rachel Levine asking for clarified health and safety rules and protocols for schools, and for schools “to clearly and publicly post COVID-19-related” information on their web pages for public review.”
“To this point, those important recommendations have not been implemented,” Askey wrote. “There is no doubt that the educators and support professionals I represent want to return to their classrooms, see their students, and conduct instruction in person. This is the best way to educate Pennsylvania’s students.”
How quickly to return to all-classroom instruction has been one of the bigger cultural and political flash points since the COVID-19 crisis hit the country last year. And while data collection on the issue has varied or sometimes has had gaps, a growing body of evidence shows schools aren’t a large contributor to community spread, the Washington Post reported last month.
“Emerging data on contact tracing — which illuminates the origins of infections — shows that the virus does not seem to spread much within schools when they require masks, urge social distancing, have good ventilation and when community spread is low,” the Post report said.
The PSEA “does not tell schools to have in -person, hybrid or remote learning,’ said union press officer Chris Lillienthal. “These are decisions that need to be made at the district level. There are parts of the state where there is much less of the virus per capita, than others. It is a local decision. We are urging that districts keep in mind the science and follow the advice of experts.”
Lillienthal said that a blanket approach “to just opening up all the schools will not work. We really have to follow the science here. Our educators will tell you that they want to be back in the classroom. That is certainly where learning should be happening, we just have to keep the health and safety of students, staff and all of their families in mind.”
The parents who organized the political action committee are from a grass-roots effort in the Hatboro-Horsham School District which made news in December for filing suit against the district superintendent and school board members to get the district to reopen schools.
“The effort grew and grew and before we knew it, we had 7,000 members from all over the state, interest from many more people from all over the state, and people coming to us who were interested in becoming candidates for school boards or local office,” said Clarice Schillinger, an organizer who is now chair of the Keeping Kids in School PAC. “We were advised the best way to get started on all of this was to start a political action committee.”
The goal is to have candidates in local offices who share the PAC’s belief that education needs to be moved back into the classroom.
“This is a bi-partisan effort,” said Schillinger earlier this month when the PAC was announced and again today. “Our research has shown that the majority of parents — Democrat or Republican — believe kids need to be in school. We are going on 10 months now of them not being in school. We want to see leadership that stands with us on this very important issue.”