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February 08, 2021

Philly teachers don't need to return to schools Monday, Mayor Kenney says

The teachers union plans to protest the district's plan to resume in-person instruction later this month

Education Coronavirus
Philly teachers union Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has urged its members to protest the School District of Philadelphia's decision to resume in-person instruction later this month.

Roughly 2,000 Philadelphia teachers will not be required to return to schools until an independent arbitrator determines whether the district can safely resume in-person instruction. 

The School District of Philadelphia had asked its pre-K through second grade teachers to report to school Monday in preparation for the resumption of in-person instruction, slated to begin Feb. 22. 

But the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers objected, claiming the district had not done enough to protect teachers from COVID-19. President Jerry Jordan requested a third-party mediation process to determine whether schools are safe for educators and students to return.

Mayor Jim Kenney said late Sunday night that teachers can continue working remotely until a decision is made. The PFT called Kenney's decision "a massive victory," in an update shared to social media. 

Though any educators who wish to report to their classrooms are welcome to do so, the teachers union is urging its members to continue working from their homes or from their cars in their school parking lot. PFT members are expected to protest at schools across Philly on Monday.

The district has conducted classes remotely since the coronavirus pandemic began last March, but about 9,000 students are expected to start a hybrid learning model later this month.

The teachers union told its members Friday to defy the school district's demands, citing health and safety concerns over proper ventilation in school buildings and a lack of available COVID-19 vaccines for educators. In an emailed response, the district said any teachers who did not report would face disciplinary action.

"Quite frankly I am disgusted that the district would continue forward with a path towards reopening buildings that again puts my dedicated members in harm's way, and in just a few short weeks, will put Philadelphia's children in harm's way," Jordan previously said.

The school district is spending $4 million to improve ventilation in school buildings. It has purchased 3,000 fans that are being installed in classroom windows. District officials have said the fans can generate enough fresh air in classrooms to support 18 people in the room before taking social distancing precautions.

The district also is developing a rapid COVID-19 testing plan for students and staff with the city's health department. Once enough doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are available, the district plans to use schools to get teachers and other school personnel inoculated.

The PFT's ability to request a mediator was agreed upon when the district and union negotiated a reopening plan in October. Both sides have submitted ventilation and building condition reports to the mediator for review.

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