Philly plans to vaccinate teachers, but Farley says shots aren’t necessary to reopen schools

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The city is fleshing out its plan to vaccinate teachers against COVID-19, even as the health commissioner said reopening schools should not be dependent on vaccinations.

Under a partnership with Children’s Hospital, teachers will start rolling up their sleeves the week of Feb. 22, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. The shots will be given at CHOP’s Roberts campus, and at six school-based locations.

At a news briefing, Farley said he expected it would take about eight weeks to inoculate 20,000 district, charter and parochial school teachers. Farley told reporters it’s not imperative that teachers get their shot before returning to schools, saying there are relatively few cases of in-school transmission of COVID-19.

“I don’t think the vaccination is necessary for schools to be open,” he said.  “I think teachers should go to school to work to provide our children an education, even if they don’t have the vaccine yet.”

He said the program will try to vaccinate teachers as quickly as possible, but added that if the district waited until every teacher is vaccinated before opening schools, “we may miss the entire school year.”

Feb. 22 is also the day in-person instruction is scheduled to resume for 9,000 pre-K through second graders in the school district.

Teachers have resisted reporting to classrooms this week as they await a mediator’s report on the district’s COVID-19 safety plan.

Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, protesting building conditions, circulated photos of window fans the district is installing in classrooms.

Farley called it a “great solution” to improve air flow in aging buildings.

“A very simple fan in the window can make a big difference in how much ventilation you have in that room,” Farley said. “In some of these older buildings where they really can’t upgrade the HVAC systems, I think that that is a great solution to a real problem where we want to increase the ventilation and we need to move quickly.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said he’s not going to demand that teachers report to schools before the mediator’s evaluation of school buildings is complete.  “You’re not going to be able to force people to go to work. Especially in this environment,” Kenney said. “What are we going to do, send the police out to pick them up and take them to the classroom?”

Fourteen nonprofits and community organizations are urging teachers to return to classrooms.

“This step is essential so that teachers have confidence that they can safely educate their young students. That confidence is best gained by having teachers go to the schools and evaluate the conditions for themselves,” according to the statement issued by organizations including Public Citizens for Children and Youth, The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance.​

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