Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro informed school superintendents across the state that he had their backs against recent threats by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
In a July 7 Fox News interview, DeVos threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that do not open for full-time, in-person instruction due to COVID-19.
“We are looking at this very seriously,” DeVos said in the interview. “There is no excuse for schools to not reopen again and for kids to learn again full-time.”
In response, Shapiro sent a message July 21 to districts showing his support to them by threatening DeVos with legal action if she pursued that path.
“Secretary DeVos has indicated that she may attempt to unilaterally stop congressionally-appropriated funds from flowing to certain districts and schools in violation of the law,” Shapiro said. “If that happens, in a way that impacts the commonwealth, I’ll take all appropriate actions.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and the state’s Department of Education have all outlined steps schools can take to mitigate the risk of the virus.
In the past two weeks, many school districts have passed their plans for going back to school, many including options for both in-person and online-learning options.
Butler Area School District updated its return-to-school plans Monday, adapting to constantly changing guidance.
“Our focus is on being prepared to reopen in the safest manner possible and providing choices for families to make,” said Butler Superintendent Brian White.
White said while he appreciates support from the state, he wants to see further support in the guidance being issued. He said with the goal to open school with in-person learning, it will take compliance with guidance that has occasionally offered conflicting stipulations between different departments.
“It’s all background noise,” White said. “We have so many issues going on that I wish the state officials would work hard to make sure their own instructions are clear and concise to us.”
Shapiro said educators will be forced to make difficult decisions, and their focus should remain on those decisions instead of funding sources and whether the money will be there.
“Your decisions must balance children’s educational and emotional needs, parents’ ability to return to work, the health and safety of your teachers and staff, and overall public health,” he said.