Philly voted overwhelmingly in November to create a "Citizens Police Oversight Commission". CM Jones has a bill in committee which would define the CPOC, but unfortunately it falls short of true community control in a number of ways.
Today the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers announced that they have come to an agreement about opening schools. By March 22nd, 152 schools will be opened to students in grades pre-K through 2nd grade on a two day per week hybrid schedule. Once again, officials are asking us to trust them that these buildings are safe, but they have tried to force us back into unsafe schools many times before - what is different this time?
The reopening plan is Dr Hite's 3rd attempt, but the latest comes with particular determination from the new Biden administration. President Biden promised school re-opening in the first 100 days of his administration, and we've already seen intense pressure on schools in Chicago, Seattle, Baltimore and San Francisco as well as Philly. Despite his promises to "listen to science," these plans were set in motion in December at the all-time peak of Covid-19 cases.
Educators, parents and students have been bravely fighting back against each unsafe reopening plan and fighting for the schools our communities deserve. We were proud to join educators in demonstrations outside of schools, district headquarters, and Mayor Kenney’s house, over the course of this struggle. Many of us are teachers and parents too, but solidarity from all workers is key in this fight. We are appalled by the school board’s latest restrictions on public comment, which exposes their agenda to open schools against the wishes of the vast majority of parents and teachers. As of October, fewer than 1/3 of students were signed up to enter the hybrid plan when it was to become available. A small fraction have now withdrawn from the plan, but still more are on the fence — willing to try hybrid for a week or two, but ready to withdraw at the slightest fumble.
Dr. Hite keeps telling us that this reopening plan is about equity, but the SDP did not provide an equitable education to its students even before the pandemic. Many schools are still full of asbestos with unworking ventilation systems even though the district has had a full year to deal with these problems while buildings were closed. In an embarrassing moment at last week’s school board meeting, it was disclosed that wealthier school communities were fundraising for air purifiers (which no public school would otherwise have). It took this to force the district’s hand in now replacing the cheap window fans with working purification systems in unventilated rooms.
The planned version of hybrid learning, which requires teachers to teach two groups of students at once, will likely result in virtual students having their educational needs subordinated to the small number of children in the classroom. With the majority of students learning virtually each day, providing the best virtual learning experience possible remains a top priority. Prioritizing the education of a few students isn’t what equity looks like either.