Philly teachers want district to have plans for COVID-19 testing, distance learning

George W Nebinger Public School in Philadelphia. Philadelphia employs more school police officers than any other public school system in the state. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia teachers want the School District of Philadelphia to satisfy nine criteria before schools reopen for in-person instruction.

The teachers want the school district to have plans for COVID-19 testing, virus tracking, deep cleaning and sanitizing, alternatives to in-person instruction, and accepting staff and teacher feedback, among other things, according to a report from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that was released Tuesday.

“One of the things that we’re asking for in our recommendations is for a robust alternative to in-person learning, meaning remote learning in a much more developed manner than what took place in the spring because it had to be done so quickly,” said PFT spokeswoman Hillary Linardopoulos.

For the PFT, having a remote learning plan will not only help things flow smoothly this fall, but will put them ahead of the curve if there is a second wave in the coronavirus pandemic.

“There needs to be a downward trajectory in coronavirus cases locally in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. If that is not the case, in our eyes, it will not be safe to reopen for students or educators,” Linardopoulos said. “Our recommendations for a robust alternative to in-person learning needs to be built into any plan because that will allow for quick implementation if needed.”

The PFT’s report comes just a day before School District of Philadelphia administrators are set to announce plans for the new school year.

Administrators previously have said they are considering changing the date of the first day of school, and considering several different possibilities for how teachers will provide instruction.

A district spokeswoman said teachers and administrators have the same goal for the fall — to reopen schools as safely as possible.

“We have reviewed the communication from the PFT and believe that our reopening plan is in alignment with what its members view as necessary actions to ensure a safe and healthy environment for students and staff,” spokeswoman Monica Lewis said in a written statement to the Tribune. “We value the partnership that we have with the PFT and all unions and believe that we must work together to effectively execute a plan that is best for all stakeholders.”

Lewis acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, but said administrators and teachers can get through it with cooperation.

“This work will not be easy, but we look forward to continuing to stay engaged with the PFT over the coming weeks and throughout the school year as we all deal with the uncertainty caused by this pandemic,” she said.

Linardopoulos said the PFT has not been directly involved in the school district’s planning process for reopening, but has offered its suggestions for reopening, cleaning and disinfecting.

PFT members are waiting to see what school district administrators have planned before they consider any further action.

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared