The Keeping Kids in School PAC, formed due to a group of parents’ frustrations with closed district schools during the pandemic, is celebrating a 94 percent victory rate in Tuesday’s primary election.
In raw numbers, 86 of their 91 endorsed school board candidates won and will move on to the November general election. The PAC’s founder, Clarice Schillinger, believes a couple of other too-close-to-call races could still possibly end up in the win column as well.
“How beautiful is that?” Schillinger reflected on Wednesday, elated but exhausted from watching returns through the night.
While her endorsed candidates are scattered across the commonwealth, most were located in the Southeast. For example, KKIS PAC had candidates in 14 of Montgomery County’s school districts.
More than a year ago, before the pandemic erupted, Schillinger was an aide for State Rep. Todd Stephens, a Republican from Montgomery County.
During the beginning of the pandemic, she spearheaded protests aimed at the school district where one of her children attend. Schillinger launched the political group later in 2020 to put pressure on the school districts unwilling to welcome children back into class — even as scientific research began to underscore the safety of in-person schooling, and reveal the damage being done to children’s educational and social prospects with schools closed.
Scientific research began to underscore the safety of in-person schooling, and reveal the damage being done to children’s educational and social prospects with schools closed.
Schillinger quickly began to expand her mission beyond her kitchen table, eventually participating in national Fox News segments, earning notice from the New York Times, and making dozens of radio and in-person appearances promoting her cause.
“I sat through August, September and October school board meetings at my own personal district. And those three meetings were party-line votes to keep schools closed. And that’s when I knew [reopening] became political,” she said.
If Schillinger’s rise was sudden and unexpected, the same was occasionally reflected in the batch of candidates. She points with pride to a candidate like Keven Gessner in the Bucks County district of Council Rock. Gessner, an Asian American, won Republican ballots by a 70-25 margin (unofficial results), even though he had no other endorsements besides KKIS, according to Schillinger.
Yet Schillinger and KKIS PAC have a long way to go to win November, something she’s acutely aware of.
Even though the PAC has endorsed some Democrat candidates and has a stated purpose of being bipartisan in nature, she realizes her success may hinge on Republican turnout.
“The numbers that I’ve looked at all night long indicate Democrats were out voting more than Republicans were. And, you know, for our kids, we’ve got to get out to the polls, right? We can’t just, can’t just rely on our neighbor.”
Her biggest challenge may not be the platforms of other candidates, but that a return to normal erodes the urgency behind her mission.
On Monday, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the state, gave its strongest endorsement for a return to in-class learning yet.
“A full, safe return to in-person instruction should be a top priority for the 2021-22 school year,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “Getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of school employees and some students has played a major role in making our schools safer spaces for learning. As more students are vaccinated over the summer, we believe that in-person instruction is achievable in a way that keeps everyone safe.”
As Broad + Liberty previously reported, the state had coordinated with teachers union officials in issuing its summer 2020 guidance on in-person learning, causing many school districts to back out of plans to return to in-person learning.
The state had coordinated with teachers union officials in issuing its summer 2020 guidance on in-person learning, causing many school districts to back out of plans to return to in-person learning.
On Wednesday, the School District of Philadelphia announced they expected to bring back all students for in-class learning, full time, beginning next fall.
“Welcoming students back to the classroom and surrounding them with caring educators is the best opportunity to help them heal and recover from the many devastating impacts of COVID-19,” SDP Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.
But Schillinger isn’t convinced the fight is over. To support her theory, she points to campaign literature for three candidates in which the handout described said there’s a need to “prepare COVID plan in preparation for Winter 2021 surge.”
“A lot of times I tell people, our name is not ‘get the kids back in school,’ it’s “Keeping Kids in School, and it was purposely named that way,” Schillinger said. “Per the Pennsylvania school code, this can happen again, they can shut down again.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.