HARRISBURG, Pa. — Tuesday marked the first of a two-day hearing held by the State House Education Committee about the impact COVID-19 has on reopening schools this fall. Panels were made up of educators who voiced concerns about personal protective equipment supply, having enough teachers to start the school year, and legal immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits if a student or staff member gets the virus while at school.
The fear of being sued is very real, according to Gary Niels, Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools Executive Director.
"What they [PAIS school heads] wish more than anything is they have some legal protection in their roles as school heads," said Niels. "So, their wish would be having some sort of legal immunity."
Niels asked the House Education Committee to pass legislation to give schools legal immunity for COVID-19 lawsuits. He says, the 110 schools that make up the PAIS, including Lancaster and York Country Day Schools, and Harrisburg Academy, have been following all guidance put down by the CDC and Department of Education.
Niels can't say if the schools would be open to inspection to make sure they are following guidelines in return for legal immunity.
"I do know they have a fear over the fact they feel legally vulnerable," said Niels. "I don't know if they'd be willing to give up the independence they enjoy to allow a state agency to come in and inspect their school."
School leaders also worry about their access to personal protective equipment as the school year goes on. Right now, they say, most schools have an adequate supply of PPE to start the school year, but feel that supply will only last the first semester.
"We have issues around access," said Donna Westbrooks, ACLD Tillotson School Executive Director. "When we do have access, the quantities in which we can purchase as well as having the continued resources to continue to purchase them throughout the school year."
Leaders from others schools say, a majority of schools are still struggling to get teachers to feel comfortable with in-person classes.
Day two of House Education Committee hearings on COVID-19's impact on schools reopening will be held Wednesday morning at 10.