A year ago, Clarice Schillinger of Horsham Township was contentedly working her full-time job as a staffer to a Republican state senator in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Today, she’s the driving force of a political action committee supporting school board candidates committed to open up schools for in-person learning. Her efforts and the Keeping Kids in School PAC were recently featured by the New York Times.
In addition to running the PAC without pay, this week Schillinger says she has filed paperwork that will round out her political arsenal: “Keeping Kids in School” has registered as an association so that it can lobby in Harrisburg.
Schillinger said she was struck by the idea after attending an education committee meeting at the state capitol last week.
“In that five-hour meeting, I saw that the union over and over repeatedly asking for more money and moving the goalposts — that many schools cannot catch up to their goalposts, like their new ventilation requests,” Schillinger told Broad + Liberty.
“Some schools, they don’t even have HVAC units. So that’s a request that can’t be met for many schools. So, on my way back from Harrisburg, it hit me like a brick wall: Oh my goodness. There was not one mention of a child. There was not one mention of a parent. There was not one mention of a taxpayer, but what there was mentioning of was the union.”
A request for comment from the Pennsylvania State Education Association was not returned.
On my way back from Harrisburg, it hit me like a brick wall: Oh my goodness. There was not one mention of a child. There was not one mention of a parent. There was not one mention of a taxpayer, but what there was mentioning of was the union.
Schillinger left her full-time job to help her own children continue their schooling from home once the pandemic had limited in-classroom instruction.
Her activism has since grown one step at a time.
It started initially with protesting the halt to in-person learning in the Hatboro-Horsham school district, where her kids were in school.
She next created a Facebook group to gather like-minded parents in the district, but the group quickly grew beyond that. Her actions gained even more attention after she and a group of 12 other parents sued the Hatboro-Horsham district to force them to provide in-person classes.
After holding grassroots rallies that attracted more local parents than she had expected, Schillinger decided to create the PAC to support school board candidates. She says she is currently working with more than 60 candidates across the commonwealth.
Her latest move, however, comes at a time when the prospects for fewer COVID-19 restrictions seem better than ever. States like Texas are reopening completely. And the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has inspired new hope that a return to something resembling pre-pandemic life might be just around the corner.
On Wednesday, Gov. Wolf said he would make most of the state’s allocation of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine available to teachers while also offering a very direct quid pro quo.
“If you’ve been offered the vaccine, you ought to be willing to come back to school,” Wolf said.
Schillinger says she is taking no chances.
“I took it upon myself to look through the 1,026 pages of the PA school code and found that in the event of emergency where — we have the governor, you know, continuously making this emergency longer and longer and extended to a year now — if there is an emergency, these schools can stay closed for four years.”
A Pennsylvania Department of Education website confirms that.
The attorneys for the Hatboro-Horsham school district also claimed in their court briefings that “no court has ever held that Section 5-501 of the School Code requires in-person instruction as Plaintiffs contend,” which only further alarmed her.
Some lawmakers in Harrisburg are also taking up the in-person education cause.
Attorneys for the Hatboro-Horsham school district also claimed in their court briefings that ‘no court has ever held that Section 5-501 of the School Code requires in-person instruction as Plaintiffs contend,’ which only further alarmed her.
For example, Representative Carrie Lewis DelRosso (R-Allegheny/Westmoreland) currently has a legislative memo circulating intended to “give students across the Commonwealth equal access to in-person instruction,” but has a caveat.
“My legislation would not require students to attend in-person instruction, nor would it require schools to offer in-person instruction,” Lewis DelRosso’s memo states. “It simply says that schools with no in-person instruction must give families an option to use their child’s share of state education funding to access educational alternatives. This would help ensure every child in every family in every community has equal opportunity to attend the school that’s best for them.”