City Council listens as debate over safety of reopening Philly schools rages on

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- As a mediator considers whether the School District of Philadelphia's COVID-19 reopening plan is safe, City Council is weighing the pros and cons.

Council's Committee on Children and Youth and Committee on Education on Wednesday heard more than five hours of testimony from the superintendent, school unions, medical experts and parents.

The school district is planning to bring 9,000 pre-K through second grade students back into classrooms on March 1, with mandatory masks, social distancing and weekly COVID-19 testing for staff.

The director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. David Rubin, testified that while improving building ventilation would help, masking and social distancing are the main ways to control the spread of the virus.

"The primary interventions for COVID prevention are really masking and distancing and hygiene and keeping sick kids out of school," Rubin said. "All told, the conclusion that we have reached in the face of falling transmission, strong safety plans and the addition of a strong assurance testing program is that the window of opportunity has opened for returning more children to the classroom, particularly in our large cities."

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has taken the district’s reopening plan to mediation.

Union president Jerry Jordan told Council that the district hasn’t provided him with complete ventilation reports that would assure him it’s safe for his members to return.

"We do not yet believe that the district has shown us that the buildings are safe for reoccupancy," Jordan said.

"We cannot and will not abide by a plan that relies on promises of safety, incomplete ventilation reports and fans that in fact pose an electrical hazard and potentially spread the virus," Jordan said, criticizing the district’s installation of window fans to circulate fresh air in classrooms.

Deputy Mayor for Labor Rich Lazer testified he hoped the mediator would rule on the safety dispute before the March 1 reopening date.​

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