The Pennsylvania Department of Education is now encouraging school districts across the commonwealth to consider bringing certain students back to school.
"Beginning in the second semester, which typically begins around Jan. 25 and as local commissioners permit, schools are going to be encouraged to allow for elementary school students to return back to campus,” said state Secretary of Education Noe Ortega during a news conference last week.
Ortega said school district administrators can make their own decisions on the matter. Though, Dr. Rachel Levine says elementary school-aged students are at the least risk to COVID-19.
"While these are not mandatory, it is up to school leaders to make a decision on whether or not local factors permit them to return elementary students to in-person instruction,” said Ortega.
A group of families, teachers and school board members gathered in Whitehall Saturday afternoon. One mom said she'd like for Allentown School District to give students and families a choice.
"I want the district to actually listen and listen to what I have to say," Jennifer Ortiz said. "They're not willing to do that. I've even emailed the superintendent twice with my concerns. I've gotten lame responses, one of them being to join a parent focus group. I don't need a parent focus group, I need a choice to send my kids back to school."
Ortiz said she's seen her two children decline academically and socially. It's her hope they can return soon.
“I do believe it can be done safely if the district works to come up with an actual plan,” said Ortiz.
The president of the state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said educators are eager to return to the classroom but is worried plans to rush students back at the height of the pandemic would set back efforts to achieve that goal.