Philadelphia school officials give tour of building amid dispute over returning to classrooms

School District of Philadelphia officials gave reporters a tour of one of their buildings Thursday to bolster their claim that they are safe for a move to hybrid learning. Teachers union officials aren't convinced the risk is low.

In his Bella Vista neighborhood home, Fenian Mahoney, 9, attends online class. His city public school George W. Nebinger School is right across the street, but when he can return his mom wants him home.

 "We don’t feel the fans are enough of a plan. I know the district is doing its best we want students and teachers to be safe," his mom Katherine Mahoney said.

The school district believes the massive nearly100-year-old building is safe, and took reporters on a tour Thursday to bolster its case.

 "In less than two weeks this school will welcome, we hope, roughly 50 pre-K through second grade students back to the classroom," School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said.

Teachers were to return to their buildings Monday to prepare their classrooms for the Feb. 22 start of classes for 9,000 students in pre-K through second grade.

The teachers union, claiming safety concerns, told them to stay home. When the district threatened discipline, the mayor decided there would be none.

"It is possible to have in-person education during this period. We’re entering a moment where it’s more possible than ever," Dr. Susan Coffin said

The district enlisted a doctor with a specialty in childhood infectious diseases to make its case. They also displayed Plexiglas dividers, fans, distancing markers, and handwashing stations.

"With all these layers of safety in place this risk of COVID-19 transmission in our schools becomes very low," Hite said.

However, the head of the teachers’ union remains unconvinced the risk is low.

"Our members are anxious to be in the classroom teaching the children. The only problem that we have is to make sure the schools are safe for students and staff," PFT President Jerry Jordan said.


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