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For schools’ return, leave politics aside

The Pennsylvania House and Senate Education Committees are scheduled to hold a joint public hearing Wednesday to gather information from state education and health department officials relating to the start of the 2020-21 school year, a reopening process that will involve weeks.

As state residents know, that process also involves numerous uncertainties as well as no small quantity of anxieties and fears.

A House Education Committee hearing on Aug. 5 reiterated the magnitude and critical nature of what lies ahead. The most important point of that forum was — and remains — that much additional detailed guidance is necessary from the state Departments of Education and Health regarding specific questions related to the health and safety of students, faculty members, administrators and other school personnel.

No doubt that will be a major theme of Wednesday’s session, and Wolf administration officials should come to that meeting well prepared to answer queries from lawmakers and the leaders of Pennsylvania’s statewide education associations — groups that at this late date remain gripped by various degrees of uncertainty over how to proceed.

Beyond the actual start of classes, in whatever form, the state’s school systems are experiencing monumental distress over how the costs of new educational realities stemming from the COVID-19 “bogeyman” might affect their existence, going forward.

There has not been much attention given to another question as the current pandemic-related crisis has persisted, but the question lurks in the proverbial shadows nonetheless:

What will be the impact on local school property taxes over the short and longer terms as the tragic coronavirus chaos gives way to healing the damage to education that the pandemic has wrought?

Like it or not, the reality is that the stopgap educational options that were in play for the final months of the 2019-20 school year were far from ideal.

Students need to get back to their classrooms, but that must not happen until provisions are in place to address the safety issues that COVID-19 is presenting.

As already is clear, young people are not immune to contracting the virus, and adults who are promoting taking a chance at their expense are acting irresponsibly and unconscionably and should not be tolerated.

The Aug. 5 hearing was a good steppingstone because the officials closest to the issues and the decisions that will have to be made had the opportunity to impart the behemoth tasks before them.

The state House and Senate must put politics aside to achieve what needs accomplished.

It was representatives of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials who spoke with great urgency at the Aug. 5 session.

“The bottom line is that this pandemic has turned the already complex job of providing public education for all children in the commonwealth into an impossible scenario requiring complicated planning and preparation with few explicit answers, many health risks, and looming financial disasters for many school districts,” PSBA Chief Advocacy Officer John Callahan told the hearing’s lawmakers.

The importance of the upcoming hearing cannot be overemphasized.

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