Some city teachers will begin returning to school “soon,” with the Philadelphia School District and teachers union set to make an announcement on building reopening Monday.
In a meeting with members Sunday, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials affirmed that prekindergarten through second-grade teachers in a limited number of schools will be back in buildings “soon,” sources with firsthand knowledge of the discussion but not authorized to publicly discuss the reopening told The Inquirer. The PFT said the list of schools was not finalized.
Students would return after teachers have time to prepare classrooms. The student return date has not yet been made public, but it will be the fifth attempt this school year to bring students back.
The city, school system and PFT had previously said an announcement on school reopening was coming Monday at a 1 p.m. news conference. Philadelphia school buildings have been closed since March; the district’s 120,000 students have been learning fully virtually all school year.
For weeks, the PFT and district have been locked in a standoff. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. had wanted schools to reopen Feb. 22, but PFT president Jerry Jordan directed his members not to report to school buildings amid COVID-19 safety concerns, particularly about ventilation. Hite threatened disciplinary consequences until the city intervened.
A third-party mediator, Chicago doctor Peter Orris, has been working with the district and union since early February. Orris helped broker the reopening deal, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, who was directly involved in the talks.
Arthur Steinberg, president of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania and head of the PFT’s Health and Welfare Fund — which monitors environmental conditions inside city schools — told union members Sunday that the window fans that had been the subject of much controversy would not be used when schools reopen.
Vaccinations had also been a point of concern for the union, but Philadelphia teachers have begun to be inoculated; every district educator has at least received an email to schedule the shots.
When children return to buildings, 20% will be tested every week by school nurses; staff working from buildings will be tested weekly by an outside company.
About 9,000 prekindergarten through second-grade students had signed up to return two days a week when allowed to do so; it’s unclear how many will actually come back. Two-thirds of children eligible to return opted to remain fully virtual, though more may switch back to classrooms at some point.
No return date has been set for students in grades 3-12. Hite has said that after prekindergarten through second-grade children come back, he wants students with special needs, English language learners, and career and technical education students prioritized for return.