But some teachers are worried about the practicality of carrying out that advice, given the realities of a large, cash-strapped district that struggles to provide supplies for 130,000 students in 200-plus schools.
The school system is monitoring the situation and working directly with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to keep abreast of the latest information on coronavirus, said Monica Lewis, a district spokesperson, who noted that the district has ordered additional cases of hand sanitizer and expects enough to supply school entrances and cafeterias. In addition, it’s bringing in sanitizing wipes, though they will be primarily used by cleaning staff.
But bathrooms in some schools don’t reliably have hot water, and at this point in the year, school-provided supplies are in short stock, teachers say. To keep germ-spreading to a minimum, many teachers are buying extra cleaning supplies, if they can find things like wipes on store shelves. Schools also are asking parents for donations.
“The lack of supplies of either sanitizer or soap throughout buildings is a persistent problem,” said Jerry Jordan, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ president. When fears spiked around H1N1 in 2009, he said, the district installed hand-sanitizer dispensers in schools, but after a few refills, most have remained empty. “Now that there is a national shortage of hand sanitizer," Jordan said, "the district is in the problematic position of being behind the curve in terms of preparedness.”
Matthew Fischetti hasn’t yet seen any district-provided hand sanitizer at Central High School, where he teaches Spanish. He spent at least $75 on wipes, Lysol spray, and soap for the three classrooms he uses every day.
Philadelphia teachers are reimbursed for $100 worth of supplies, a sum he’s long since gone past, but being sick four times so far this year has made Fischetti extra vigilant, he said.
“I’m in all these different rooms, with 33 kids in every class, and I move around,” said Fischetti. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Fischetti wipes down everything someone else might have touched, from the remote control to his classroom projector to student desks. Sometimes he’ll even offer to disinfect students’ cellphones.
“Kids are kids, and they’ll cough into their hands,” Fischetti said.
At this point in the school year, any supplies her school was able to provide are gone, said Kristin Luebbert, a teacher at the U School in North Philadelphia.
“I keep my surfaces as clean as possible, wipe down tables every day, and use sanitizer, but it becomes an expense, because the district doesn’t give us wipes or sanitizer for our classrooms," said Luebbert. “It’s just a worry — what’s the plan and how are we going to be safe?”
Lewis, the district spokesperson, said that school cleaning crews are being directed to disinfect doorknobs, desks, counters, and other hard surfaces.
School officials from around the city gathered Thursday to discuss how the virus might affect district and charter schools, including who would be considered essential employees if schools need to close and getting adequate supplies into schools.