In-person PreK-2 Classes on January 22 in Jeopardy

City teachers are reluctant to begin their preparations for opening hybrid classes for PreK-2 students on January 22 due to Covid-19 safety fears.
City teachers are reluctant to begin their preparations for opening hybrid classes for PreK-2 students on January 22 due to Covid-19 safety fears.

Union supports no-show for teacher preparations next Monday

At the instigation of an activist group within its union, the Philadelphia Federation Teachers (PFT), now demands that its concerns about the safety of classrooms to an outside arbiter.

This puts in jeopardy the call of School Superintendent Dr. William Hite, Jr. that teachers for Pre-Kindergarten through second-grade classes report on Monday, January 8.  This would the teachers and staff to begin preparations for opening these classes on an in-person basis on January 22 for several days a week. 

The safety questions arose from a move to put window fans in the classrooms to enhance the circulation of air – a key step in reducing the concentration of the virus particles which might be breathed into the air by any Covid-19 positive students or staff.

The union, according to CBS news releases, says the city has appointed a neutral arbitrator to hear both sides, but they have yet to hear a date of when that hearing will happen.   The only teachers affected are those for K-2 grade classes which are to begin assembling on a hybrid basis.  Other classes and grades are unaffected.

Dr. Hite has outlined the measures that the PSD has taken to assure the classrooms are safe.  He has advised that the teacher’s option to remain away is part of the reopening agreement agreed to by both parties last fall.  

In a statement released by Dr. Hite, he indicates that he still expects affected teachers to be in the classrooms next Monday.

Members of the Caucus of Working Educators, an activist group within the PFT, have said they support school staff who refuse to report to buildings over safety concerns.

Union leader Jerry Jordan voiced his reservations about the window fans and other unresolved safety issues.   Informal surveys indicate that all of 9,000 PreK-2 teachers want to go back to be with their students, but insist that  rooms and corridors to be safe for everyone.  

Parents of about the same number have indicated they don’t want children to go back to school even if eligible to do so on February 22.   This reluctance was heightened by a photo of temporary window fans which went viral on the internet last week. 

The pandemic forced the school system to revert to virtual instruction since March 2020.  One key problem with is that a significant proportion of homes lack the internet connection and computer capability for remote instruction and direct engagement is impossible for working parents.  

Dr. Hite added that it was disappointing for the union to pick this time to once again delay the resumption of classes.  Jordan indicated that while ventilation may have improved in some classrooms, there were many which have not been improved.  He also questioned  the safety of hallways and restrooms.

The union contends that late installation of some of the window fans will not permit proper air balancing in time for Monday teacher attendance at some schools.   Hite’s response was that if a teacher is alone in a classroom or bathroom the air would not be shared with anyone else.

(A Philadelphia Inquirer article by Kristen Graham of February 5 was condensed by Globe Times staff for this article.) 

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