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"Scared and nervous": Harrisburg School Board member expresses concern as back-to-school date approaches

Harrisburg School Board member Jayne Buchwach says she is anxiously awaiting the district's health and safety plan, which is to be released August 10.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — With a little more than a month before schools are set to reopen across Pennsylvania, Jayne Buchwach admits she has had some trouble sleeping.

"When I tell you these topics keep me up at night, I`m totally sincere about that, because how will we look? How will this look? How will it work?" 

The questions are endless for Buchwach, in her first term as a Harrisburg School Board member, although the challenges presented by COVID-19 are a first for everyone, no matter what the school district. Like everyone else though, including parents, Buchwach will have to wait until August 10 to find out how Harrisburg plans to address student safety. That is when the district administration, led by superintendent Chris Celmer, plan to release their Health & Safety Plan to the public. The plan is expected to outline how Harrisburg schools will address everything from how many days students will spend in school versus learning from home, how the schools are to be sanitized, what would happen if a child tests positive for COVID-19, and so on.

Where Buchwach is concerned, and has had parents express concern to her, is the August 10 release date is only three weeks before the start of the school year on Monday, August 31, giving parents not much time to make difficult child care and safety decisions for their own families.

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"I wish it would’ve been sooner. No, I’m not comfortable," Buchwach said. "All school districts, but those especially that are urban schools, are really, really facing monumental financial situations."

Buchwach says parents tell her their top concern is making sure their children stay safe from COVID-19 infection. However, for many, it's not as easy as simply keeping kids home from school. Harrisburg's median income, according to United States census data, is $37,356, which is among the lowest for school districts in the commonwealth. Parents out of work have been able to benefit from the federal CARES Act and the extra $600 a week in unemployment compensation it provides. However, on July 31, that program ends, and currently, Congress is stalled on a second stimulus package. Parents in the Harrisburg School District need to work, in the most dire situations, so their families can survive.

It all presents itself out to somewhat of a Catch-22: Keep the children safe and out of school, but then parents might not be able to go back to work, with no financial safety net to catch them.

"I'm really anxious for parents who have to go back to work, how do they do it?" Buchwach asked. "I don’t know."

All FOX43 questions to the Harrisburg School District were directed to their website, which has a message from Superintendent Celmer and information on their new cyber school, the Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy. More information can be found here.