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Teachers protested back in February about being sent back to unsafe school buildings. Photo: Office of Councilmember Helen Gym
Teachers protested back in February about being sent back to unsafe school buildings. Photo: Office of Councilmember Helen Gym

Philadelphia Schools to implement air and surface purifiers in classrooms

The safety measures come after a contentious Spring that saw teachers protest a return to school buildings they deemed unsafe.

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As COVID-19 continues to threaten in-person learning, the School District of Philadelphia announced that all classrooms will have air and surface purifiers when school starts in the Fall to combat COVID-19 concerns. 

On July 15,  Superintendent William Hite announced that all schools will begin to have air and surface purifiers. The purifiers are a response to improve air circulation after previous attempts to provide a concrete solution for COVID-19 concerns failed. The district will use $4.5 million in COVID relief money to pay for them. 

“When students return to in-person learning our families, staff and students can be confident that we are taking the necessary steps to prioritize their health and well-being,” Hite said at a press conference at Juniata Park Academy. “These air and surface purifiers will be at every school and every instructional space, as well as larger spaces that accommodate people.”

This comes after the district bought 3,000 window fans in an attempt to improve air circulation, as students began returning to in-person learning for the first time since March 2020. 

However, many parents and teachers criticized the window fans as a dangerous and ineffective way to contain COVID-19. 

Concerns over the building’s safety became a vital issue during the pandemic as Philadelphia teachers have threatened to strike over the air circulation problems. 

As reported by Chalkbeat Philadelphia, teachers protested in February over the lack of clear safety improvements made to building. One of the first complaints was that window fans were not enough. 

After much debate, school officials decided on the improvement in air circulation with the purifiers as they continue to reassure staff and parents of the several other precautions being taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil said the air purifiers can eliminate 99% of the virus “within three minutes.” 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Hite said the district will also continue to follow CDC protocol for in-person learning in the Fall. 

As COVID-19 conditions are still being monitored nationally and locally, district officials said the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health will continuously review the latest guidelines and local COVID-19 conditions, and will issue any new updated safety protocols to schools as they are available.

During the announcement on July 15, Hite was also joined by Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, who has been active in making sure teachers feel safe when returning to in-person learning. He said that although teachers were not made aware of the improvements, it will help everyone feel safer. 

“It is going to solve any dispute about the need for ventilation in our school buildings for the children and for the staff,” Jordan said. “It also is something that the parents and the local community will see as another layer of support in mitigating the virus.”

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