(PHILADELPHIA) – Teamsters Local 502/Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA) leaders and members will raise serious concerns at tonight’s School Board meeting regarding the School District of Philadelphia’s plans to reopen schools in the fall for in-person learning, despite rising cases of COVID-19 in the region.
“We are certain that the decision to reopen school was not an easy one to make; nonetheless, the call has been made to not only put students, staff, parents, and administrators in harm’s way, but to also show the world that the School District of Philadelphia and its Board of Education are more concerned with rebuilding the economy than protecting the lives of children, who are among our most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Robin Cooper, President of Local 502/CASA.
There is deep anxiety among educators, school staff, students and families concerning plans to open schools in Philadelphia while other large, urban school districts around the country—including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Baltimore—are making the decision to not reopen in the fall for in-person education.
“We do not believe that school district personnel should have to potentially teach students to death, and no, this is not speaking figuratively. Rather, it is a literal statement that underscores our very real concerns for our students, parents, school personnel and ourselves,” Cooper said. “Despite scientific evidence and CDC recommendations regarding social distancing which clearly state that virtual schooling is the safest option, the School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education and Superintendent have decided to ignore the scientific evidence and move forward with an ambiguous and ill-conceived plan. It’s a plan that raises more questions than offers answers and unilaterally favors in-person learning despite the dangers attached to implementing such a design.”
Children do contract coronavirus and can carry the virus. Populations of students, particularly those with complex special needs, may not socially distance or consistently wear masks. Programming for 17 to 25 students in a small classroom does not adequately allow for social distancing and student safety.
Local 502/CASA is calling for the safety of students and members of school communities, as well as parents and guardians, while allowing for a meaningful level of instruction to continue. This is the safest option and the only moral option for students. Local 502 is calling for:
- All students to be taught virtually for the first two months of the school year as we carefully analyze the direction of the COVID-19 virus;
- Whole district training of school personnel to support the quality of instruction in a remote context;
- Teacher collaboration and reflective practices to improve student outcomes;
- Students (and parents) to have virtual access to school counselors and nurses;
- 440 Behavioral Health staff to provide virtual supports to students, families and staff; and
- School District of Philadelphia must spend time now ensuring all students have in- home access to virtual learning (computers and free internet / Wi-Fi).
The School District identifies its student population as overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged. The majority of the student population is African American at 52 percent, followed by Latinx at 21 percent. This intersection of race and poverty among students places them in an even more precarious position than students in affluent surrounding districts.
Teamsters Local 502/Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA) has been outspoken on the importance of racial equality, protesting the murder of George Floyd and denouncing racial injustice and inequality during a recent march.
In order for systemic racism to be properly addressed in and by the School District of Philadelphia, Local 502 has repeatedly called for and continues to call for the creation of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) department. This department is critical, with the sole responsibility to ensure that all entities are committed to educating ALL students. A DEI department will ensure that diversity is acknowledged and respected, equity is a standard practice and inclusion of all is the basic standard.
“We are calling upon the District to involve school and community stakeholders, inclusive of union leaders, in hiring personnel for this strategic office designed to assist eradicating systemic racism within the School District of Philadelphia. A committee, coalition, or ad-hoc group is not sufficient because it lacks permanence and the necessary checks and balances to ensure accountability,” Cooper said.
Teamsters Local 502/CASA represents approximately 700 school administrators who work in the School District of Philadelphia as principals, assistant principals, facilities area coordinators, climate managers and school police, food service supervisors, early childhood supervisors, leadership coaches and curriculum specialists.