Philadelphia teachers, political reps, show out against school reopening amid COVID-19 concerns
In a late-night switch, the city announced that teachers would not be mandated to report to their classrooms on Feb. 8.
Feb. 8, 2021 was the planned day for teachers and pre-K through second grade students in the School District of Philadelphia to return to their classrooms as part of the district’s effort to reopen.
Those students that opted for an initial hybrid plan are scheduled to come back to in-person on Feb. 22.
However, in the lead up to Feb. 8, there has been significant blowback from teachers, unions and local political reps that reopening early is putting teachers back into an unsafe work environment where COVID-19 could run rampant.
Last week, Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), urged its members to stay home on Feb. 8.
In a released statement, Jordan said he was “disgusted” by the school district’s plan to go forward with reopening, and reiterated the union’s concern over poor ventilation in classrooms.
The school district’s response to the issue is the installation of 1,000 fans in school windows, which Jordan also called “offensive.”
Thousands of teachers and parents have also taken to social over the past week under the hashtag, #onlywhenitssafe, to express their concerns about a rushed reopening.
In response to Jordan, School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite said he was “disappointed” in the union’s stance before an email was sent to all PFT members on Feb. 5, threatening disciplinary action for not showing up on Feb. 8.
Local elected officials, Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, and state reps Rick Krajewski and Chris Rabb, also released a statement on Feb. 5 calling on the school district to delay its reopening to leave time for more community collaboration.
“It is the District’s responsibility to deliver a school re-opening plan supported by the children, families and staff that the District serves,” the letter reads. “At this stage, it is clear this threshold has not been met.”
The letter also drew attention to an upcoming City Council meeting of its Committee on Children and Youth and Education on. Feb. 17 that will act as a hearing on school reopening.
The Fund Facilities Coalition released its own letter on Feb. 7 addressed to Hite and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney that was signed by 30 local leaders, also calling for a delay in opening past Feb. 8.
“We call for the District and the city to devote themselves to transparency about decision making and to completely remedying building concerns before proceeding to reopen schools,” reads the letter. “This is the least we can do in the short term.”
Amid the growing animosity and support for teacher protests on Feb. 8, the city announced that teachers did not have to return in-person because an independent arbitrator had yet to determine whether it was safe to do so.
Instead, teachers and local elected officials spent the day protesting like they planned.
“Solidarity with educators and parents across the city demanding a safe school reopening,” tweeted Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “We must protect our teachers, students, and our neighborhoods.”
Solidarity with educators and parents across the city demanding a safe school reopening. We must protect our teachers, students, and our neighborhoods.
Prioritize our school communities, reopen only when it is safe. pic.twitter.com/evonmlN4dZ
— Councilmember Kendra Brooks (@KendraPHL) February 8, 2021
“As a former teacher, as a mother, and a councilmember, I'm angry,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson at a protest alongside PFT. “We should not have teachers in this position. Ever.”
.@CouncilwomanKGR: As a former teacher, as a mother, and a councilmember, I'm angry. We should not have teachers in this position. Ever. We're at a critical moment that we need to put the safety of our children & educators first. #FundOurFacilities #ReopenSafely @pftlocal3 pic.twitter.com/B9VOeIXfjE
— AFT (@AFTunion) February 8, 2021
“Proud to stand in solidarity with @PFTLocal3, @RepFiedler, and the students, parents, and community members coming together to demand a plan for a safe reopening,” wrote PA Senator Nikil Saval on Twitter.
Good morning from A.S. Jenks elementary in South Philly! Proud to stand in solidarity with @PFTLocal3, @RepFiedler, and the students, parents, and community members coming together to demand a plan for a safe reopening. pic.twitter.com/U2b3dCu4Yu
— Senator Nikil Saval (@SenatorSaval) February 8, 2021
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.