City: Pre-K through 2nd-graders will begin return to Philly schools March 8

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After overcoming several roadblocks and weeks of mediation, the city has announced the School District of Philadelphia's youngest students will officially return to school buildings next week.

Mayor Jim Kenney made the announcement Monday alongside district officials and representatives of the teachers union.

About 9,000 pre-K through second-grade students will return to classrooms in a hybrid model on March 8.

The agreement calls for schools to open in groups, while the union's environmental specialist reviews the safety of individual rooms. At first, 53 schools will open for about 2,600 pre-K through second graders on Monday, March 8. Teachers would report Wednesday, March 3, to begin preparing.

Superintendent William Hite says the much-maligned window fans that were decried by teachers are not being used.

"We have agreed as part of this process to just remove the fans, because they became such an issue. We’re going to replace them with air purifiers," he said.

The district initially wanted students to return on Feb. 22, but the date was pushed back several times because the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers argued that in-person learning and existing school buildings were not safe enough.

On Friday, Superintendent William Hite said the city, district and teachers union were in agreement with this announcement.

PFT Health and Welfare Fund Chief Trustee Arthur Steinberg said mediation helped the two sides come together.

"The level of trust was not great. We, with Dr. Hite, are in the process of repairing that," he said.

Hite didn’t want to comment on the consequences for teachers who don’t report.

"We have a lot of accommodations for individuals who are not feeling comfortable. We now have rapid testing in place, and the vaccines in place," he said.

Kenney said forcing teachers back to school would be counterproductive.

"You could take the hard line and 'You’re going back because I tell you,'" he said. "That’s not going to work long-term."

The district hopes to announce each week additional schools that are opening, with the goal of having 152 schools open for pre-K through second grade by March 22.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio