Senator Martin’s Hearing on COVID in Schools Reveals Ongoing Frustration with State Agencies

(HARRISBURG) – Saying state agencies overseeing schools are slow to respond to COVID-19 questions while providing conflicting guidance on the virus to schools, educators from all levels today testified before the Senate Education Committee, chaired by state Senator Scott Martin (R-13), about their ongoing frustrations with the Wolf Administration’s oversight.

“Our parents are fighting for what they believe is best for their children,” Senator Martin said. “Our teachers are forced to play mask police, taking away from already scarce instructional time when they need to be focusing on educating our children.  Administrators are spending their days on compliance and begging for clarity and consistency.  Both they and our teachers are being threatened with losing their certifications, and in some cases, being harassed at home.  Our volunteer school boards are attempting to be responsive to a community with both hands tied behind their backs and being threatened with fines and lawsuits.  Child care facilities are struggling to get 2-year-olds to keep a mask on safely while being threatened with citations from the state. And our children are caught in the middle.”

Michael Bromirski, superintendent of the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County, said in his testimony that the current state Department of Health (DOH) order conflicts with the FAQs and emails that the district has received.

“We often receive emails late on Friday afternoons that state schools must, should, and/or are recommended to do certain things, but the order does not state these new instructions,” Bromirski testified. “So, are we to follow the interpretation as outlined in the FAQ or the actual order? If schools are to implement or enforce an order, we deserve the opportunity to get direct and timely answers to our questions …After being applauded for figuring out how to open our schools for in-person instruction, schools have become the new front line in the battle over mask wearing and other COVID mitigation efforts and it is simply not sustainable. Instead of being supported, we are being blamed and threatened. From all sides.”

Jessica Daugherty, who works for a state licensed child care facility in Lititz, Pa., said the state’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) has ranged from vague to intimidating, with threats to remove the facility employees if the young children in daycare do not comply.

“(The Aug. 31) announcement gave a very vague update as to how the new requirements would need to be implemented in regards to licensing regulations,” Daugherty said. “After reaching out to my licensing certification representative, I was left with many unanswered questions…(A Sept. 15) update stated that OCDEL would give citations to child care centers for children not wearing masks without a doctor’s exemption from their child’s physician.  I was completely appalled at the length OCDEL and this administration would go to control the level of which masks are worn. Not only did the choice on wearing masks get taken away from a parent but the obligation of requiring to wear a mask was placed on the child care provider.  The newest announcement states ‘compliance with this order is not optional.’”

Barry Fillman, director of Jeff Tech, a career center in Reynoldsville, Jefferson County, testified that schools are on the front lines of frustrations from parents as part of a situation over which they have little control as “threats from the government pile on to an already intense situation.”

“We as school administrators have been put in a position to absorb everything that politics creates and it is breaking the will of decent, loving people,” Fillman said. “They cannot get at you to air their grievances. They come to us…we all deserve real help in this, a partnership. I long for the opportunity for teachers to teach and leaders to talk about and support education with their efforts instead of playing a game set up by people that do not understand the ramifications of their decisions and the manner in which they roll things out.”

The Department of Health and Department of Education declined to participate, citing pending litigation. Senator Martin said he and the Education Committee will continue to press the Wolf Administration for answers.  “I’m deeply sorry you will not be getting the answers from the administration that you were hoping to get, but we will continue to push for this, and I’m glad we have the chance to hear from you today,” Senator Martin said. 

Written testimony as well as the video from today’s hearing can be found at:

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