Back-to-school events give Philly families vaccinations and supplies, but no word on masks

The district's 'Back-to-School Bus Tour' runs through Aug. 20
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Tony Watlington, Mayor Jim Kenney at a back-to-school event at Northeast High School on Friday.
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Tony Watlington, Mayor Jim Kenney at a back-to-school event at Northeast High School on Friday. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The School District of Philadelphia held its first Back-to-School Bus Tour “mega event” on Friday at Northeast High School. Students received supplies and vaccines they need weeks before the first day of class.

But students did not receive any word on whether they would be required to wear masks this academic year because of COVID-19.

Students and staff in Philadelphia schools were required to wear masks at the end of the last school year. But superintendent Tony Watlington, speaking at the district’s backpack giveaway, can’t say yet whether masks will be mandatory when school resumes on August 29.

“We’re currently reviewing our information and data related to the issue of masks, and we’ll have some announcements very soon,” said Watlington.

Some parents at the back-to-school event were also concerned about the possible spread of monkeypox in schools.  Mayor Jim Kenney appeared at the event and called such a spread unlikely.

“From what we understand about how you get it – or how you possibly get it – it probably won’t affect many of our kids,” said Kenney. “We’ll see what happens as we get closer to the actual opening.”

“We’re in meetings this week as a matter of fact, discussing those issues and about the time when we share some information and updates on the masking issue we’ll have something to say about that as well,” Watlington added.

Parent Gena Wright said if there is another mask mandate, her children are fine with it.

“Until this whole virus thing gets under control, my kids are really into wearing their masks.  They don’t have a problem,” Wright said.

Kenney added that he believed children were more mature about wearing masks than many adults have been.

Families waiting in line for free school supplies, backpacks and vaccinations at Northeast High School on Friday.
Families waiting in line for free school supplies, backpacks and vaccinations at Northeast High School on Friday. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

The Back-to-School Bus Tour began earlier this week and will run through Aug. 20.

Friday’s event was the third in 10 on the tour where students can get free backpacks, books and other supplies, which is a welcome break for families who are facing the squeeze from high costs driven by inflation.

“I have two kids. Being low income, it helps me a lot getting their school supplies,” said parent Melanie Rosario. “I love these kinds of events because they even give out free books for the kids to read, too.”

Physical examinations and vaccines are also available at future district mega-events for children who are registered ahead of time.

Friday was Watlington’s 50th day as superintendent. He said he’d be sharing the findings of his 100-day listening tour with the school board in October.

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