BY: TRISTAN JUSTICE | JANUARY 25, 2023
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Emails uncovered by concerned parents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, home of the state’s third-largest school district, reveal district leaders knew they were violating state law when they locked students out of the classroom after the 2019-2020 academic year. Years later, it’s finally coming to light.
In July 2020, an email from then-Central Bucks Superintendent John Kopicki acknowledged the legal limits to online instruction for the upcoming school year.
“Hybrid options and staggered schedule options are NOT legal as of today, absent a waiver or legislative change,” the email read. No waiver from the state house ever came, but the schools shut down anyway.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers offered schools flexibility from Pennsylvania’s 180/990/900 rule, which requires students to be in the classroom for 180 days, for 990 hours in secondary school and 900 hours in elementary school. The legislature granted districts a suspension of the requirement for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic calendar but refused to renew the waiver over the subsequent school years. Yet the Bucks County School District continued to shut down schools throughout the next two years. Classrooms closed again and again after the 2019-2020 school year despite no legislative waiver.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Martin, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, told The Federalist schools that violated the state’s 180/990/900 rule could face a “significant financial penalty if they fail to get a waiver.”
“If there are violations of [the] 990 rule, that can influence whether schools get their reimbursements from the state,” the spokesman said.
On whether Central Bucks County violated the rule, Martin’s office deferred to the state Department of Education. The department did not respond to The Federalist’s inquiries, leaving the possibility for substantive accountability in doubt two years later.
The Central Bucks School District also did not respond to The Federalist’s request for comment.
“It was never legal to shut schools down,” Jamie Walker, a mom of three children in Bucks County Schools told The Federalist. “It was always illegal. They knew it.”
The repeat closures in the Central Bucks School District are just the tip of the iceberg in a series of battles Walker and a group of upset parents have waged with administrators since 2020. Parents have protested the closures, accompanied by seemingly endless mask protocols and six-foot social distancing, which is an impractical standard that forced classroom shutdowns.
In June 2020, David Damsker, the director of the Bucks County Health Department, issued guidance on reopening classrooms for the fall that included three-foot distancing and an optional mask policy, given the difficulty of keeping facial coverings on children. The teachers unions, however, immediately launched an operation to discredit Damsker and demanded a six-foot distancing policy that forced students into virtual learning.
In July 2020, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Mideastern Region President Bill Senavaitis published an op-ed in a local paper headlined, “David Damsker’s remarks about 3-foot social distancing in schools are harmful.”
“The Bucks County Department of Health should revise their school reopening guidelines to align with those made by the CDC and allow our students and staff at least the same level of basic prevention and protection as our colleagues across the state and country,” Senavaitis wrote. “Now is not the time to fall short on protecting our students and staff. I urge educators, parents, and community members to contact Dr. Damsker’s office and ask him to revise his guidance to support the health of all individuals in our public schools.”
By August, PSEA President Rich Askey sent a letter to Bucks County Commissioners and urged officials to dismiss Damsker’s three-foot distancing recommendation.
“In addition to the health risks that 3 feet of social distance will undoubtedly cause, your guidance has caused confusion in Bucks County’s schools,” Askey wrote. “This is certainly understandable, since the county guidance differs from recommendations issued by the state departments of Health and Education. The state has clearly recommended 6 feet of social distance in school.”
Additionally, Askey said he “repeatedly urged” the state’s Democrat leaders to mandate school reopening rules rather than issue guidance that could be left up to the discretion of local health authorities.
State bureaucrats have responded to parent pushback over strict Covid protocols by stonewalling requests for public records and even suing those who dare request them.
Last summer, Bucks County filed lawsuits against Walker and Megan Brock to deny the parents access to internal documents that shed light on the school reopening process.
“Brock, Walker, and their supporters have become thorns in the side of local leaders, filing dozens of records requests — Right-to-Know requests in Pennsylvania — over the last year and speaking out passionately at government meetings,” National Review reported. “At one point, the county blocked Brock from calling any government telephone lines. Brock said that was unwarranted and unacceptable. The county said it was an accident.”
Despite parents’ activism, the government schools have escaped accountability for years over their illegal Covid protocols. The lack of checks and balances creates a pandora’s box of negative possibilities: How else could schools and teachers’ unions harm children that nobody will ever find out about, or not be able to confirm until years later?