PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has told its members not to report to school buildings on Monday and to continue to work remotely due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
In a statement on Friday night, union boss Jerry Jordan called the district's proposal to reopen classrooms to a select number of pre-K to 2nd grade students on Feb. 22 "a half-baked reopening." The union wants to wait for a third-party to review the district's health and safety protocols before returning to school.
"Other than sheer cruelty and a callous disregard for the lives of educators and school staff, I can't think of another reason to push forward with a reckless plan to reopen unsafe buildings for thousands of staff on Monday," Jordan said.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) had previously called on a third-party to review to examine measures taken by the district after Jordan said he was unimpressed with their efforts.
Part of those measures included a plan to use window fans to address airflow problems in schools with broken HVAC systems.
The district has said it worked with certified air balancers to test and certify the fans and ordered 3,000 more than the district needs in case some need to be replaced. They also said temperature readers installed in some classrooms have not shown room temperatures drop below 68 degrees.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Dr. William Hite called the union's directive "deeply disappointing" and claims it violates the collective bargaining agreement that was met months ago.
Hite said teachers are due back 2 weeks before classes start to "begin receiving training on health and safety practices as well as new technology to support hybrid instruction." He noted that staff members have been working to prepare buildings for students since last spring.
"PFT’s suggestion that teachers and other staff should not report to these same buildings to also support the needs of our students and families perpetuates inequities that we find unacceptable," Hite said.
In an email Friday, the district issued a scathing warning to its educators, writing in part: "If you are expected to be in your building on Monday and choose not to do so, you will be subject to disciplinary action." The union called the threat "nothing short of bullying."
The controversy comes as Centers for Disease Control leader Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she does not believe a vaccine is needed for teachers to safely return to school.
Walensky cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.
"Again, let me be very clear: our membership wants to be in buildings--when it is safe to do so. The PFT has engaged in months of good faith efforts to develop a plan for reopening safely, and we remain committed to doing just that," Jodan said.
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