The Philadelphia School District is putting students and staff at risk and needs “urgent course corrections” in COVID-19 protocol, nurses and teachers told their union in a survey released Tuesday.
And while some of the 4,000 teachers, nurses, and other Philadelphia Federation of Teachers members who responded to the union survey said they felt adequate safety measures were in place to protect against the coronavirus, many said the opposite was true.
School nurses reported particularly distressing conditions.
“The School District of Philadelphia is putting my nursing license at risk every day I go to work,” one nurse wrote in the survey.
“I need help. The current working conditions are unsafe and are not sustainable,” another wrote.
Jerry Jordan, PFT president, said the situation represents “a health and safety precipice in our school buildings. The commentary from our school nurses should serve as a stark reminder to the district of what is at stake.”
From inadequate supplies in some buildings to trouble with student mask protocol in some schools, staff reported a variety of issues.
In some schools, nurses said there were not enough COVID-19 tests available for students. An outside company administers weekly exams to all school staff, but nurses are responsible for testing students who present with COVID-19-like symptoms during the school day.
“We need tests!! I only have three left! I am so upset about it! The parents are trusting me to test their kids, because this is what the SDP said would happen. And now we don’t have enough tests! It’s a disgrace,” one nurse wrote.
The system also has a number of unfilled nurse positions, with 17 nurse vacancies and seven nurses out on sick leave. Some schools go without full-time nurses in their buildings.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district was doing its best to fix the situation, but was hampered by the pandemic and stiff competition for nurses in the labor market. And he said he knows nurses are overburdened, but said much of their COVID-19-related tasks are prescribed by the city Health Department.
“This is a resource shortage and an asset shortage that’s impacting all of us,” Hite said.
The superintendent said that the school-level COVID-19 test shortage at some schools is not due to a district supply problem, though.
“We just need to get them more tests,” said Hite. “We have money for tests. That’s something we can do.”
Of the PFT members who responded to the survey, almost 10% said the air purifiers supposed to be in their classrooms were missing or broken; 34% said they did not have working sanitizing stations in school common areas; and 18% said student mask protocols are not in place or enforced.
The PFT called for a number of fixes, including the restoration of asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for students — the School District tested children who returned to buildings for hybrid instruction last spring but has opted not to do so this fall, at the city Health Department’s suggestion — the addition of more nurses to fulfill additional tests; better communication between the central office and nurses and between the central office and parents; more coordination with the Health Department on contact tracing, and the implementation of online student COVID-19 testing consent forms to allow for quicker testing.