In Council News, Helen Gym, News by admin

PHILADELPHIA — Today, Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) released the following statement on ensuring a safe return to in-person learning:

“The education of our city’s youth is critically important to the public health of our City, to our economic stability, and to ensuring that 2022 is a year in which we get better at meeting the challenges of COVID and its variants. But the chaotic and confusing opening of school this week, in which nearly half of Philadelphia’s schools were closed to in-person learning within a day, proves that neither our city nor our schools have met expectations.

“It is not enough to say we want schools to open. We must deliver a plan to guarantee that schools can stay open. What we saw this week was as much a crisis of confidence in our leadership as it was a crisis of public health.

“Earlier this school year, I and many others laid out a plan for a safe and full school reopening. And again, I am calling on the City and the District to take the following urgent steps to protect the safety of students and school communities, and rebuild confidence in the District’s ability to manage what is likely to be a long-term health crisis:

  1. Ensure PPE Access: The high transmissibility of the omicron variant demands higher quality personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect students and educators. The District must provide medical-grade masks for all students and school staff. The District has unspent funds from both federal and state grants which could immediately be used to purchase appropriate PPE.
  2. Expand Testing Capacities Within Schools: Every school must have the ability to conduct testing for students and staff, including random sample testing, to monitor and prevent spread. While supply chain issues persist, there is no excuse for a complete absence of testing capacities within schools, or for the long lines and delays reported at the District’s limited existing testing sites. Districts larger than our own have accomplished this, and we have a responsibility to provide this resource to students and our school communities.
  3. Bring Vaccine Clinics to Every School: Less than one in four children aged 5-11, and less than half of youth aged 12-17, have received even one dose of the vaccine. The District must dedicate resources in the next week to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to provide education, awareness, and access to the vaccine for students on site within schools. School-sponsored vaccine events should be deployed at every school in the District. Last winter the District engaged in a highly successful vaccination drive for educators in partnership with CHOP and others. We should embark upon another citywide vaccination effort and bring twice annual vaccine clinics into every school in the city.
  4. Invest in Expanded Nursing Capacities: Every school must expand their healthcare capacity. In addition to at least one school nurse, every school should have a tele-nurse backup plan, and schools must have dedicated staff for COVID testing and monitoring. Both the City and District have a responsibility to ensure that high risk, vulnerable young people are guaranteed school nurses, including convening hospitals and nursing schools to troubleshoot, and a full-court press to retain and recruit school nurses through concrete incentives and streamlined hiring processes.
  5. Develop a Clear Action and Communications Plan: It was inconceivable that school communities had almost no communication about protocols and school opening amid a rapidly changing health landscape. Poor last minute communication made the difficult decisions even more chaotic for families. The District needs affirmative communications with families on thresholds, changes in protocols, reporting on test positivity, and contingency plans amid staffing shortages.

“One thing is clear: this is not the District’s burden alone to bear. For far too long, the District has been expected to figure out problems on its own, with the City seen as backup. Right now, more than ever, our collaboration must be integrated and our goals shared. The City must step up and embrace the needed steps to keep our schools safe and open. That particularly means oversight and helping convene coordinated efforts around testing, vaccination and school staffing.

“We may not be able to control the pandemic, but we can ensure families and school staff are treated with the respect they deserve. It is our responsibility to put measures in place that will better ensure the continuity of learning and the safety of everyone in our schools.”


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