(PHILADELPHIA) February 5, 2021 – Today, Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) released the following statement in response to the School District of Philadelphia reopening plan:
“As a School District of Philadelphia graduate, former long-term teacher, and the parent of two current School District students, including a Kindergartener slated to return when the District reopens, I share the concerns about the reopening plan expressed by multiple teachers, staff, and families over the last several weeks. Our schools should not reopen until there is a third-party assessor who deems the facilities safe, and there is a plan to ensure all returning educators and school staff can be vaccinated.
“I personally know how difficult this virtual school environment has been for students, families, and educators. My daughter’s teacher has been phenomenal under extraordinary circumstances. She gives her all each day, and I am forever grateful for her work. Even with the best teacher, I have seen my daughter struggle with starting Kindergarten virtually. I have also seen how hard this is on our educators. Teaching is already a challenging profession and engaging young people on a screen has made it even more so. This experience makes me deeply invested in ensuring students can go back to the classroom as soon as it is safe.
“As leaders, we need to put our children first. Philadelphia continues to struggle with the impacts of generational poverty and systemic racism and these impacts on educational equity and opportunity are massive. This history, along with recent actions by the School District regarding facilities operation and management, has created a lack of trust between the District and educators and families. We know that virtual school is not the best learning environment for students. I have seen that firsthand. We also know that its negative impacts are disproportionately affecting our most at-risk students, but putting children back in unsafe classrooms, with the risk of further disruption from Covid-19 outbreaks, will not expedite the closing of our achievement gap.
“In order to reopen our schools safely and in an environment of trust, we should have an independent third-party evaluator sign off on the monitoring of air quality and air flow in classrooms, including daily testing using approved monitoring devices. Teachers also need the opportunity to visit classrooms as part of the evaluation, so they have first-hand understanding of the conditions they will be returning to. Finally, we need a comprehensive plan from the Health Department and the Administration on when all returning staff will be vaccinated, how that vaccination program will be implemented, and all partners who will be involved.
“We have kept our schools closed in order to protect the health and safety of students, educators, and their families, mine included. Now that we are in the midst of a vaccination program and hopefully turning the corner on this pandemic, we must take the time to ensure this process considers equity, health, and safety and is used to rebuild trust between the District, educators, and families. This is the only path forward.”