Philadelphia school district, teachers union working together to ensure safe reopening

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite joined Good Day on Thursday morning to discuss the district's plan to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hite touched on the decision to move students to a hybrid schedule, the mandate which directs all students and staff wear face coverings, and addressed student transportation.

According to Hite, the alternating in-class schedule was designed so that students are never more than four days removed from in-person learning. The superintendent said the district collaborated with local and federal health agencies to devise the plan.


"We learned from the digital learning that we did back in the spring when individuals said that children needed to have some time with teachers with face-to-face instruction," Hite said.

The plan also accounts for face-to-face leaning for pre-k students and children with special needs or those learning English. 

All students can opt-out of all in-person learning and attend school entirely virtually. Dr. Hite says parents and students will have to make their decision by Aug. 4. More information on how to apply can be found on the district's website.

MORE: School District of Philadelphia announces plan for fall academic year

In an effort for teachers to keep their divided class on the same schedule, students may be required to login during a virtual learning day and participate in a lesson. 

Of course, the district's plan features robust sanitization and mitigation guidelines designed to stem the spread of coronavirus through social distancing and reduced class size. 

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan told FOX 29 that in the wake of the district's 28-page plan his union still has "a number of concerns."

Jordan echoed the sentiments laid out in PFT's Tuesday press release that demanded intense cleaning, abundant personal protective equipment and prioritization of hygiene and handwashing.

"If the students and the staff are not safe, you're not going to be able to educate our children," Jordan said.

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While the district promised many of the demands made by the union, such as personal protective equipment and sanitization initiatives, Jordan said they now must make certain that those assurances are met. 

"We want to make sure that we do have all of it," Jordan said. "During the next six weeks, we will be taking to the administrations to make sure it exists in buildings. It's one thing to order it, but if it's not delivered to the building then you don't have it."

The union is also demanding the district adheres to aggressive mitigation guidelines laid out in the reopening plan; especially for teachers and staff in the high-risk category. Jordan says there are "a number" of the union's 12,000 teachers who have an underlying health condition.


"We should not have educators put a number of years of service in the district and because they are immunocompromised in some way that they are then just told they're no longer employed," Jordan said.

Jordan said there needs to be protections in place for teachers who are highly susceptible to the coronavirus. As part of the union's ongoing conversations with the district, they will invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure valuable teachers' jobs are protected.

Jordan did not mince words about the severity of the virus, describing it as "a killer" the likes of which the world has never had to deal with. He believes the window for reopening safely is small, but manageable.

"We have one shot time to get this right, and we have to do it over the next few weeks so that we have everything in place that we can possibly have in place to avoid an awful tragedy," Jordan said.


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