As School Closures Near First Anniversary, a Diverse Parent Movement Demands Action

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Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said, “The science has not been clear enough about the spread and vaccines, so it’s still the responsible move to make sure that after vaccination is accomplished — and that will take quite some time — that you still wear a mask and still social distance.”

The unions are a major player in Pennsylvania politics, and although they are most closely tied to Democrats, give to Republican legislators as well.

Parent activists like Ms. Schillinger are beginning to directly take on the unions and critique the six-feet standard, which federal guidelines suggest is ideal but not required. Ms. Schillinger launched a political action committee, the Keeping Kids in School PAC, to support school board candidates, including Mr. Gessner, who want the option for five days per week of in-person learning.

The group is in touch with more than 60 potential candidates, and is encouraging them to run simultaneously on the Democratic and Republican tickets, which is allowed in Pennsylvania school board races.

Ms. Schillinger previously worked for a Republican state legislator, but like hundreds of thousands of other American women, has been unable to hold a job during the pandemic, in part because of the need to assist her two children with remote learning, she said. She eventually pulled her 9-year-old son out of the Hatboro-Horsham district and enrolled him in a fully open Catholic school.

Ms. Schillinger had been a teen parent and strove to establish herself professionally, she noted.

“I have fought and climbed my way up to make this American dream, and I’ve done it. It’s been completely ripped away,” she said, her voice breaking. “Now I have left employment. I’m taking care of my kids. I am fighting for my children and I will not stop.”

Her PAC is working with parents in the Norristown Area School District, just northwest of Philadelphia. The district is operating fully remotely, and on Feb. 22 its school board voted to push back a phased transition to hybrid learning to April 5.

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