NORTH PHILADELPHIA - Refusing to put Philadelphia teachers, students and families at risk, the union representing Philadelphia teachers protested across the city Monday.
They are calling the return to in-person learning "obscene" under current conditions and until they know staff and students will be protected from the coronavirus, they will continue teaching remotely.
"Fans and plywood? I say this this way because it is so disrespectful. I thought it was a kind of parody from SNL," exclaimed Randi Weingarten.
Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers, ripped School District of Philadelphia’s plan to ventilate schools. Councilwoman Cindy Bass said it’s yet another failed attempt to rush people back into class.
"And to the school district we say, ‘Do you want to get it fast, or do you want to get it right?’ Lives are on the line. You’ve got to get it right!" Councilwoman Bass exclaimed.
Teachers at schools across the city protested what schools had intended as a mandatory return for some instructors to prepare for a full return on the 22nd. Parents and teachers, some both at Edward Steel School in Nicetown, don’t see what’s changed to make things safer.
"You guys had a whole year! This is not a plan. A fan is not a plan," one teacher could be heard.
Mr. Byler held his virtual 4th grade class on the sidewalk as teachers protested. In addition to ventilation, they want vaccinations. Coronavirus is a huge fear for many instructors, said Philly Federation of Teachers’ Jerry Jordan.
"They are afraid for their lives and the lives of their loved ones and the kids. That’s why you see so many of them out here today," Jordan explained.
Schools Superintendent Richard Hite had called for discipline for any of the couple of thousand pre-K to second grade teachers who didn’t comply, a threat Mayor Jim Kenney backed off until an arbitrator can rule. No one knows when that will be. And, Bass says returning teachers need shots.
"We need to make sure that if there’s about 25 percent of all teachers and students returning in the beginning, that 25 percent of teachers should be vaccinated," Councilwoman Bass stated.
In response to the protests, Superintendent Richard Hite issued a statement:
"Today we opened our school doors to welcome our PreK-2 teachers and support staff back to their buildings so they can begin the necessary training and classroom preparation that is critical for them to lead safe and engaging learning environments for students. Virtual schedules for the next two weeks for PreK-2 students were adjusted specifically to provide teachers with sufficient time to prepare for our students’ return on February 22. The return of staff to buildings reflects 11 months of careful and science-based preparation by thousands of District staff who have been working tirelessly in our schools to ensure every school has a wide range of safety layers in place as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Health Departments. These include:
- Enhanced cleaning protocols using EPA-approved cleaning products,
- New classroom and bathroom setups to ensure social distancing,
- Maximum occupancy and safety signs throughout,
- Pre-screening protocols for students and adults,
- Inventories of PPE for staff and students to support mandatory mask wearing and facial covering while in schools,
- Plexiglass partitions in offices,
- Touchless hand sanitizer stations and hydration stations in hallways.
We echo the sentiment that we are all in this together. That’s why we’ve engaged in ongoing discussions with health experts, city officials, and all School District unions throughout this entire process. We are awaiting next steps on the mediation process from the City so we can resolve any identified issues and proceed together without delay."
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