Philly teachers defy demands to return to buildings, plan Monday protests

The city’s teachers union has told teachers not to return to classrooms on Monday. The district says teachers could face discipline.

An empty classroom in Philadelphia.

An empty classroom in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Parks & Recreation)

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Philadelphia’s teachers union will hold citywide protests Monday, defying school district plans to bring teachers back into classrooms for the first time since last March. As part of its “day of action,” the union has told members not to enter school buildings as requested.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) said in a statement Sunday that “thousands of teachers” will work outside their buildings instead of going inside.

The protests will include appearances by Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers.

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The school district has requested that some staff report to buildings on Monday to prepare for the eventual return of some pre-K through grade 2 students. A district official said staff who defy the order could be subject to “disciplinary action.”

The PFT has said the buildings are not safe amid the coronavirus pandemic and told its members not to enter school buildings.

The School District of Philadelphia — which has about 120,000 students overall — has a plan that would welcome back roughly 9,000 students on a part-time basis starting Feb. 22.

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In October, the union and district signed a memorandum outlining the conditions that needed to be met before students returned to in-person classrooms. The district says it has met those conditions. The union, however, disagrees — specifically citing ventilation as an area where it believes the district hasn’t kept its promise.

The two sides are now in mediation, although it’s unclear when the mediator will make a judgment.

The union also wants staff vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning.

Two previous attempts by the district to offer in-person learning did not come to fruition.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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