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Pennsylvania senators endorse grade repeating after pandemic learning loss

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(Kirsten Smith:The Center Square) – Lawmakers on the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed a bill Monday that gives kids a chance to repeat a grade after falling behind from COVID-19 disruptions.

Senate Bill 664 would give parents the option to voluntarily hold their child back – once a decision that remained the purview of the district and teacher. It also would allow special education students aging out of the system at 21-year-old to extend enrollment an additional year.

“I think all of us have heard loud and clear about recognizing the learning gap that students have experienced, through no fault of their own,” said Committee Majority Chairman Scott Martin, R-Strasburg, on the chamber floor Monday. “We want to make sure they are put on the right path instead of just shuffled ahead.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, sponsored the bill after “hearing from parents” about the learning gaps their children experienced when schools switched to remote instruction in March 2020.

Some students struggled with a “homebound education,” he added. Allowing special education students another year enrolled in district services could “make a world of difference.” 

“Given the circumstances, it makes sense to give parents a stronger say in whether their kids should advance to the next grade level or repeat a grade to make up for learning loss during the pandemic,” he said.

The ARC of Pennsylvania, an advocacy organization for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said extending enrollment for special education students provides “pivotal support” and “a lifelong benefit.”

“It is our mission to help people to not just live, but to thrive in their community,” said The Arc of Centre County CEO Becky Cunningham. “Extra time on this transitional bridge will only help those we support to reach their potential as successful and responsible community members.”

The bill moves to the Senate for consideration.

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