Pa. Republicans aim new bills at shutdowns of schools, athletics

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Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania say they want to give parents more power to let their children repeat a year of schooling if they feel their child didn’t get the education they needed or missed out on a year of athletics amid shutdowns during the pandemic.

Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Fulton, said Monday that his forthcoming legislation applies equally to parents motivated by education or athletics.

Currently, schools and parents make a joint decision as to when a student can repeat, Topper said. But Topper said his legislation gives that sole decision-making power to the parents.

So, for instance, a parent whose high schooler misses a season of football, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey or some other sport — and a chance to make their case for a college scholarship — can have them repeat a year, Topper said.

Also, a parent whose elementary school student fell behind during the months after school buildings shut down in March and isn’t ready to move to the next grade can also choose to have their child repeat the grade, Topper said.

“We have to get this right,” Topper said in an interview. “We’re talking about kids that are going to be a year behind academically.”

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools to shut their buildings as the pandemic hit Pennsylvania in March.

Companion legislation being introduced by Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, would give school districts the power to decide whether fall sports and activities can go on, including whether spectators are permitted.

It would take that decision-making authority away from the state or the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Wolf on Thursday recommended that youth sports, including school athletics, not resume until January in an effort to prevent gatherings that would spread the virus.

Wolf, however, did not order a halt to youth sports, and the PIAA on Friday postponed mandatory fall sports activities for two weeks just before they were to start.

Wolf’s administration also has ordered that sporting events at all levels be held without spectators, unless it approves a team’s plan.

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