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July 15, 2021

Philly teachers, students must wear masks when school returns this fall

The district also is placing air and surface purifiers in every classroom

Education COVID-19
Masks Philly Schools Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Public school students in Philadelphia will be required to wear masks to protect against COVID-19 when in-person classes resume Aug. 31, 2021. Staff will also be required to wear masks and will be subjected to weekly rapid testing, Superintendent William Hite says.

The School District of Philadelphia will keep its mask requirement in place when in-person classes resume Aug. 31 for all students and staff despite federal guidelines that state fully vaccinated people do not need to wear them.

Superintendent William Hite said the district's policy is based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that recommends unvaccinated people wear face masks in public, according to a report from NBC10

"Until that (CDC) guidance changes, we will still be asking individuals to be in masks and subject to testing," Hite said Thursday.

Though COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for adults, they are unavailable to children under age 12. That means many students will be unvaccinated when school resumes. 

"Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained," the CDC guidance says.

The CDC updated its guidance for schools last week, recommending schools fully reopen for in-person instruction this fall. Additionally, the CDC said there should be three feet of space between students at all times. 

Adults within the district will be subjected to weekly rapid tests, and 20% of students will be tested randomly each week, which will require parents to submit a consent form.

The district also will have air and surface purifiers in every classroom. The ActivePure Technology, which was developed by NASA, costs $4.5 million but was covered by the American Recovery Act, according to the Inquirer

Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil said the machines have been proven to eliminate 99.9% of airborne COVID-19 viruses, NBC10 reported. When tested in an enclosed setting, McNeil said the purifiers "deactivated" the virus within three minutes.

"When students return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Aug. 31, our families, staff and students can be confident that we are taking the necessary steps to prioritize their health and well-being," Hite said.