July 28, 2020
PHILADELPHIA— Today, the PFT released its most recent member survey regarding reopening school buildings. Over 7,500 members participated in the weeklong survey.
Over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, we have conducted four membership surveys and have used every survey as a means of gauging member feedback and developing our union positions. Combined with our first three surveys, this current survey represents over 25,000 member survey submissions since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
Since the release of our prior report, three major factors have shifted the trajectory of reopening efforts:
- Virus Trajectory: We’ve seen national surges in cases, an uptick in statewide cases, and a plateauing of local cases. Without a sustained positivity rate of lower than 5%–which Philadelphia is currently exceeding–combined with a sustained reproduction rate of lower than 1, it will be unsafe for buildings to reopen. These metrics must be the foundation of decision making.
- The District’s Plan: The School District of Philadelphia released a plan that is not aligned with our reopening requirements. With significant discrepancies with our requirements and their proposed reopening model, our leadership and rank and file membership alike had significant concerns regarding moving forward.
- Lack of Funding: Thus far, Congress has failed to pass the HEROES act which would bring $3B in urgently needed education funding to Pennsylvania. The President and his Secretary of Education have threatened to withhold funding and have weaponized reopening efforts in an attempt to implement their misguided voucher agenda. Their morally bankrupt rhetoric has only served to ratchet up local and national fear around reopening.
These components have increased the already extreme trepidation regarding reopening. Further, without the proper implementation of the requirements of our plan, reopening with the hybrid model as currently proposed is not a viable option.
Of the survey respondents, 73.6% feel personally unsafe entering school buildings. Only 8% said they feel safe. An even greater percentage of respondents, 78%, feel that their students’ safety is jeopardized by entering school buildings. Only 6% felt it would be safe for their students to enter buildings.
Over half of respondents (53.6%) feel that fully remote is the safest and best option given what we now know, while 26.7% are in favor of nearly fully remote with very limited exceptions.
We believe that a full return to virtual learning for the first quarter, at minimum, is warranted. This is not a position we take lightly. Our members want to be in buildings doing the jobs they love—and they want to do so when it is safe to do so. Our children learn best in face to face environments, but we cannot compromise the physical safety of the students and staff in order to do so.
On our call for a virtual start to the year, PFT President Jerry Jordan said the following:
“Never in our lifetimes have we seen a situation like this, and there is no road map for how to navigate so many factors. We desperately want to reopen school buildings, but unfortunately, there’s been a confluence of events–not the least of which being the virus trajectory itself–that shows that this is simply not possible.
“The health and safety of our students and educators must be paramount, and we cannot gamble with their lives. Our membership has spoken, and in conjunction with the science of the virus, our research, and what we know now, the District must begin the year in a fully virtual format. Lives are on the line.”