Return to in-person school in Philly delayed again, mediation results expected Monday

Families stand in line at Philadelphia School District headquarters to pick up Chromebooks ahead of the start of the school year in September 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Families stand in line at Philadelphia School District headquarters to pick up Chromebooks ahead of the start of the school year in September 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The School District of Philadelphia’s plan to bring some young kids back to the classroom will not begin Monday as scheduled — but the weeks-long conflict between the district and teachers is said to be nearing a conclusion.

District and city officials have been hoping to allow about 9,000 children enrolled in Pre-K-through-2nd grade to resume in-person instruction late last month, but that plan was derailed by resistance from the teacher’s union, which argues that members should first be vaccinated and that the city’s aging school buildings are not safely ventilated. Both sides have been awaiting a ruling from a third-party mediator appointed by the city.

On Thursday afternoon, a school district spokesperson said the mediation process was nearing its conclusion, with details on a resolution to be announced Monday.

“I truly appreciate the good faith effort that has been demonstrated by all parties involved throughout this mediation process,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “We are excited to be nearing the end of the process and look forward to providing our Philadelphia community with more certainty about the reopening of our public schools, starting first with our youngest learners.”

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said in an email to members Thursday that the union was currently reviewing ventilation data for all classrooms that are slated to have students and staff return.

“As part of ensuring your safety, this will likely include keeping certain buildings closed while others open,” Jordan wrote.

A union spokesperson declined to comment further Thursday afternoon.

The release by the district did not include a new tentative return date.

Pop-up clinics run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) devoted to vaccinating teachers, child care providers, and others who work with children opened on Monday.

CHOP Chief Medical Officer Ron Keren said this week that their goal is to provide both shots of the vaccine to all “student-facing personnel” by early April.

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