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After education secretary expresses doubt, Pa. House speaker demands plan for reopening of schools in fall

The Middletown Blue Raider mascot gives a thumbs-up to students and parents who came to Reid Elementary School on March 31 to pick up their iPads.
The Middletown Blue Raider mascot gives a thumbs-up to students and parents who came to Reid Elementary School on March 31 to pick up their iPads.
staff photo by laura hayes

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai is demanding that the Wolf administration share its plan to ensure Pennsylvania’s students return to school in the fall and continue, uninterrupted, their education.

The Allegheny County Republican was responding to recent comments by Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera that schools might still be closed in the fall. Turzai sent a letter to Rivera on Saturday requesting more details.

“We’re preparing for the best, but we’re planning for the worst,” Rivera said last week, according to abc27.

However, the York Dispatch reported that, as of Friday, the department is still planning to reopen schools in the fall.

“The secretary’s comments are irresponsible and raise some serious concerns,” Turzai said. “What is the plan to return our students back to their classrooms? Very sadly, these comments typify a ‘can’t do’ attitude, as if the administration really does not want schools to reopen.”

Noting that Pennsylvania’s teachers, administrators and staff are all continuing to be fully paid, and all their medical benefits are covered through a statewide taxpayer investment of more than $33 million on the state’s PreK-12 public education system, Turzai asked if the Wolf administration fully engaged overseeing the education of students.

He stated in a press release that Pennsylvania’s per-student spending on public schools ranks third out of 50 states, and Pennsylvania ranks second in overall average teacher salary.

“We need to open the schools safely in the fall. Pennsylvania families and students deserve nothing less,” Turzai wrote. “By Labor Day 2020, you will have had nearly six months to plan for a return to school. You and your office must work collaboratively with school superintendents and their administrators across the state to make plans for a safe fall return. If a school cannot do so, then that school should embrace the cyber charter school approach.”

In his letter to Rivera, he asks: "How much instruction are our students getting each day? In grade school? Middle and high school? At trade and career technical education schools? Are students self-teaching? Are parents teaching? Is there value added from the educational establishment? What measurables have you put in place? These questions need answered."

His letter concludes: "You are not working to find workable solutions given what is in front of us. Instead of providing direction and even hope, your statements are fostering depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. That is not the way to govern and lead."