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Parents deserve more options to overcome disruption to kids’ education

It is no secret that school closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by extended periods of online learning have wrought a great deal of educational damage for most students.

While some were able to adapt, many were not so fortunate. There are those kids who really need in-person learning to grasp what is being taught. There are those kids who need more help than what can be provided by even the best of technology. And, of course, there are those kids who pay little to no attention to school if there isn’t a responsible adult there to keep them on task.

Even among those who managed to do fairly well in the online environment, in terms of learning most still are behind where they would have been had the pandemic never happened.

As a result, what was once considered an almost-taboo subject may now be the best move — having a child repeat a grade.

Normally, that decision rests solely with the school and it is usually because a child has failed too many courses. But given how each student has handled the unique challenges of COVID-19 differently, we are supportive of a measure that has been approved by the Pa. Senate that would grant parents the one-time option of holding their kids back if they feel they aren’t ready to advance to the next grade.

The bill would only apply to the 2021-22 school year. An amendment developed in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Education would ensure parents would have until July 15 to decide whether their kids should advance a grade or be held back.

Senate Bill 664 would also allow parents the option to extend enrollment in special education programs for an extra year due to COVID-19. This provision would prevent students with special needs from aging out of the system at age 21 after missing out on much of the specialized attention they need due to COVID-19 disruptions. In addition, the bill would apply to parents and children who attend schools responsible for the education of deaf and blind students.

The bill is supported by The Arc of Pennsylvania and other advocates for Pennsylvanians who have disabilities.

Are there some questions that still need answered, pertaining to things like college admissions or athletic eligibility? Sure. But the primary purpose of schools is to ensure kids have the best opportunity to learn. Whatever issues remain to be ironed out are secondary to that purpose.

“Students have spent a lot of time learning at home over the past year, so parents have played a larger role than ever in the education of their children,” our own state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, said. “Giving parents the option to provide an extra year of education for their children offers a pathway to help students who have suffered serious learning gaps during the pandemic.”

We couldn’t have said it better and we urge the state House to pass the bill quickly.

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