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Educators Looking To Pa. Lawmakers For Protection From Potential Lawsuits If Schools Have Coronavirus Outbreaks

By: KDKA's Nicole Ford

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- Lawmakers gathered Wednesday in Harrisburg for another round of panels to find out what can be done on the state level to help schools reopen in a few weeks.

"Do you feel you've gotten enough guidance from either the Department of Education or the Department of Health?" said Curtis Sonney, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee chair.

"No," replied Dr. Shane Hotchkiss with the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

The simple answer speaks volumes to the confusion school districts across the Commonwealth face.

"What if it's not feasible to provide six feet distance? Is five and a half feet acceptable? Many questions like this, with no firm answers, make the risk of liability very real for school districts," said Shawn Sampson, the business manager at Titusville Area School District.

Educators are looking to lawmakers for protection when it comes to potential lawsuits if a school has an outbreak. On the other side, those same schools are experiencing issues with getting enough personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to reopen.

"We bought all the hand sanitizer, but all the pumps and things to disperse the hand sanitizer, we haven't been able to get ahold of," said John Callahan with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

This is just one roadblock in a long list heading into the fall.


"We can't go through an entire school year with our kids learning at the level they learned in the last two months of the last one," said Rep. Jesse Topper.

So at the state level, what can be done to help fix potential teacher shortages if the virus spreads?

"We support SB 1216 that would help expand the pool of teachers available for the 20-21 school year by providing some temporary flexibility to certify teachers," Hotchkiss said.

There are several bills like this one already proposed to help school districts, but the educators asked the House to start passing those bills.

In the end, the main concerns from the districts include clear plans for positive cases, addressing teacher certifications, funding loss and rural internet connection issues.

The next public hearing for the committee, which will include the state Department of Health and Department of Education, will be Aug. 19 at 1 p.m.

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