PFT President Jerry Jordan Provides Update on COVID Response

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January 5, 2022

PHILADELPHIA—"First, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the absolute horror that unfolded in Fairmount this morning. The PFT mourns the devastating loss of thirteen lives, including seven children, in this catastrophic tragedy. Our words are certainly insufficient, but we send our deepest condolences to the families, loved ones, and school communities affected by this tragedy.

"In order to keep the District informed of ongoing concerns regarding their untenable approach to school operation during this unprecedented virus surge, we reissued our survey of PFT Building Representatives to once again quantify the deep concerns we have around the COVID mitigation measures within our school buildings. 

"Today, building representatives again completed a daily report back survey which detailed conditions in schools. We received 147 responses, which detailed the following:

  • Nearly 95% of schools reported staffing shortages.
  • 50% of schools responding reported staff absences of more than 16 staff members.
  • Over 61% of schools responding reported staff absences of greater than 20% of staff members.
  • Nearly 67% of schools responding reported higher absences today than yesterday.

"Regarding specific COVID compliance issues, we received dozens of additional reports adding to yesterday's counts of lack of masks, lack of mask enforcement, lack of sanitizer, and an extreme lack of COVID testing supplies.

"Building representatives also offered open feedback and below are a sampling of their comments:

  • Principal and secretary are out - leaving office unattended
  • 3 new positive staff cases yesterday. One of today's absences includes the school nurse. No students are being tested at our school due to expired tests.
  • Absences: 3 Teachers, 3 Assistants, 2 Climate Staff, 1 Climate Manager, 1 Counselor, 1 School Nurse, 1 Assistant Principal - and with our Covid testing today, we may have even more out tomorrow!
  • This situation is affecting all school staff in every position, students, and families, and we need a solution from the school district ASAP!
  • We have 20 staff members out. This is 1/3 of our staff.. Also 4 janitors, leaving us 1 left. This is not sustainable.
  • 37% absent today if you include vacancies 50% staff shortage
  • There is a SERIOUS health and safety concern at our school. Yesterday's staff absence rate was 22% with 61 staff members out. Today we are at 27% with 74 staff members out. Yesterday we had a 35% substitute fill rate. Today we had 17 substitutes working and 43 unfilled positions for a 26% fill rate. We had 75 internal coverages yesterday. Today we had 119 teachers who had to provide internal coverage in addition to the substitutes who had to cover 6 classes and lost their prep periods.
  • Our school is rationing our inventory of child-sized masks. Teachers do not have sufficient child-sized masks and those are in great need as boxes are gone through very quickly.
  • We do not have enough testing kits, and no response from the district when requesting more. Students and families have little access to testing outside of school due to the shortage of test kits and long lines at testing centers.
  • All of the COVID tests in stock are expired. There is a backlog to get more. Nurse is not able to test students.
  • We DO NOT test students that are symptomatic because we DO NOT have a nurse. The company that tests unvaccinated staff did not show up yesterday and we did not receive any notification as to why or if they would show up to test staff this Friday.

"Again, I reiterate our call for a temporary pause on in-person learning in order to develop a safety plan. To consider having in-person learning amidst nearly 40% positivity rates would have been unthinkable last year, and yet, the District and PDPH are moving the goalposts at the expense of safety. 

"This week's school opening has been characterized by a reactive response and has put us even further behind where we should be in terms of planning and mitigation. A temporary pause on in-person learning in order to plan for appropriate mitigation strategies would significantly shorten the likely length of time schools need to be virtual. Instead, we are wasting critical time while cases continue to skyrocket."