PHILADELPHIA - As the School District of Philadelphia prepares to welcome a limited number of students back inside classrooms later this month, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has called on a third party to review health and safety measures taken by the district.
Union boss Jerry Jordan said he is unimpressed with the district’s effort to prepare buildings for the return of pre-K-2nd grade students on Feb. 22. The district's plan to use window fans to address airflow problems in schools with broken HVAC systems is among the areas of concern for the union.
"We believe that the buildings are not safe for children and for staff until that’s corrected they won’t be safe," Jordan said.
The district says it worked with certified air balancers to test and certify the fans, according to Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil. He says they ordered 3,000 more than the district needs in case some need to be replaced and says temperatures reader installed in a select number of classrooms so far have not shown the room temperature drop below 68 degrees.
Teachers are due back in school on Monday to prepare for in-person learning. Students who elected to return to class during the fall selection period will be in the first wave of students allowed back inside. The district's plan calls for two days in-person and three days virtual.
"Our teachers want children back as well and one of the things I think we have to do is acknowledge we want kids back and problem-solve to get them back as soon as possible," Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.
In a statement, the district called the union's decision to invoke a third-party review "an attempt to delay the reopening of our school buildings." The district believes it has taken all the necessary protocols to try a soft reopening.
The brewing 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. President Joe Biden has pledged to ensure nearly all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the first 100 days of his administration.
A Philadelphia public school teacher, speaking on anonymity, told FOX 29 she’s OK to return to classes without a shot, but understands the concerns of others.
Meanwhile, the union is mulling a decision if the third-party review votes in favor of the district's safety protocols.
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