PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania education and health officials were in the hot seat on Wednesday during a hearing on safely reopening local schools. A joint public hearing with the Senate Education Committee on safely reopening schools this fall was filled with questions from state legislators.
Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine defended the guidance both departments have given on reopening schools in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
“The recommendations that we made, not at the last second but in a timely way, have been generated in terms of the public health of the children as well as the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania and the rate of transmission,” Levine said.
“What we’ve been doing in the Department of Education since the beginning of summer is trying to provide different types of modules, try to provide different types of professional learning opportunities,” Rivera said.
With schools around the commonwealth choosing in-person learning, hybrid, or completely remote learning options, state health officials say they’ve worked closely with superintendents around Pennsylvania to offer guidance, not mandates on reopening plans.
“We put out this guidance at the very strong request from the superintendents and the school districts,” Levine said. “They were asking for specific metrics.”
Questions ranged from liability issues to schools that do open for in-person learning to childcare issues for those who will be in virtual settings like Philadelphia.
“What resources are going to, or has anybody thought about making available to our educators so they’re able to do their job and fulfill their requirements while they have their children home?” Rep. Mary-Louise Isaacson said.
The hours-long hearing raised numerous concerns about school reopening plans, plans that even health and education officials admit have been fluid in the midst of ever-changing evidence on COVID-19 and its effects on children.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics a week ago or two revealed that 97,000 children had tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July in the United States,” Levine said.