March 1, 2021
PHILADELPHIA—"This Union has led the charge in ensuring that when school buildings reopen, they will be safe for reoccupancy. That's exactly what the plan we outlined today does. It was a painstaking process, but this Union has never, and will never, waver when it comes to the safety and health of our educators and the young people they serve.
"The Union triggered the intervention of the neutral third party, as negotiated by the PFT and District, and we were able to utilize the mediation process to secure and assure a safe plan to reopen school buildings. Today, we are able to confidently say that 53 schools are safe for reoccupancy based on a detailed analysis that was made possible by the mediation process.
"I applaud all parties for their commitment to ensuring the safety of our educators and the young people they serve. Nothing could be more important."
This afternoon, AFTPA President Arthur Steinberg and AFT President Randi Weingarten represented the Union at a joint Federation-City-District press conference. AFTPA President Steinberg's prepared remarks are available below, and the metrics he references are available here.
AFTPA President Arthur Steinberg's Prepared Remarks:
Good afternoon, I’m Arthur Steinberg, President of AFT Pennsylvania and Chief Trustee of the PFT Health and Welfare Fund. I’m pleased to be here today, because it’s an important step forward in our collective goal of returning students and staff to safe school buildings. President Jerry Jordan was not able to join us but of course has been instrumental in seeing this process to a successful conclusion.
From day one of this pandemic, safety of educators and the students they serve has been paramount for this union. It’s why we spent months, both at the local and national levels, developing comprehensive safety plans for reopening of buildings.
And in fact, the fight for safe school buildings started long before this pandemic, and it’s one that we intend to continue until every single student has access to the 21st century school buildings they so richly deserve. It’s a fight that is rooted in systemic racism that for far too long has shortchanged our students, a majority of whom are Black and brown, and a majority of whom are experiencing poverty. It should be lost on none of us that the conditions that have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic would never, ever be tolerated in a wealthier, whiter school district.
I want to acknowledge that throughout this pandemic, time and again, Philadelphia’s educators have fought tirelessly for their students, and the fight for a safe reopening of buildings is emblematic of that commitment. They taught outside on the coldest day of the year in 19 degree cold to demonstrate just how serious they are about their profession and about the work that they do serving our young people each day. That work continues each day whether they are teaching in person or remotely.
It is fitting that we are here at Wright School, because it’s here that we joined together with members of our Fund Our Facilities Coalition to advocate for additional funding to address the facilities crisis in Philadelphia’s schools. I want to thank Principal Payne and PFT Building Representative Amanda Dorneman for their ongoing advocacy on behalf of the students at Wright School and the entire city.
And I want to thank the Mayor, along with Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer for ensuring that our concerns about safety were not only heard, but addressed. Their work, in partnership with our national President Randi Weingarten, was critical in a time when we needed it most.
Today’s announcement is significant because it will be the first time in nearly a year that students, albeit a small group, are able to return to in person learning.
But make no mistake: students and educators have been working harder than ever amidst enormously challenging circumstances. Our membership, and our leadership, has always been clear: we want school buildings to reopen, when they are safe to do so.
The process of verifying safety was challenging. This union is one of two teachers’ unions nationwide that employs an environmental scientist, and as such, we are able to provide a high level of technical expertise and analysis. I’m not going to sugarcoat what unfolded over the past several weeks and months--it’s been enormously challenging, but our goal has always, always been to protect the safety of our staff and young people.
The plan being announced today does just that. I wish that we could stand up here today and announce that every single school building is safe for reoccupancy. But we’re not quite there yet. We are able to say, with confidence, that the 53 schools being announced today are safe for reoccupancy.
The process that we undertook to ensure that they were safe was painstaking, and every space that is slated for occupancy has been reviewed by our Director of Environmental Science Jerry Roseman. The metrics that we used to evaluate the spaces is manifold, and [you can review those metrics here]. We reviewed over 1,000 pages of documents related to more than 1,200 spaces, and did so in a way that allows us to legitimately verify the scientific safety of a space for reoccupancy. That is not something we could do a few weeks ago.
I want to highlight one specific point: no space that contained the window fans that we, rightfully, the source of much consternation, will be cleared for reoccupancy until an alternative solution is put in place. These fans were a nonstarter for us, and the District made the right decision to take those spaces offline until an alternate solution will be in place. As such, none of the spaces with window fans were in today’s list of cleared spaces. But I do want to note that we have developed an alternative solution involving air purifiers that are scientifically approved, including by our environmental scientist. As we continue to evaluate the remaining schools, including ones that are now scheduled to receive air purifiers, that data will be incorporated into our analysis.
I also want to highlight that thousands of our members have now received their first dose of the vaccine, and thousands more are scheduled. I thank the Mayor, CHOP, and the District for this important partnership, and fully recognize that this expedited program is a huge step forward in returning students to school buildings.
I’d like to turn it over to our national president, Randi Weingarten, whose leadership amidst this global pandemic has been unparalleled. The resources, commitment, and personal involvement Randi has put into ensuring that Philadelphia’s children and educators will be safe upon their return to school building is really remarkable.