Limiting Public Testimony in the Wake of Reopening Schools

Testimony of Sonia Rosen to the BOE, 1/28/21

As an SDP parent, I came to speak on behalf of many people who wanted to speak tonight but couldn’t because the Board has undemocratically instituted rules that limit the number of speakers at each meeting and reduced speaking time. You owe it to us to reverse this unethical decision, which, ironically, has now ensured that you won’t get to publicly hear all the parent and teacher pushback about your reopening plan.

Aside from the lack of adequately ventilated classrooms, I am most concerned that there is currently no vaccine available and accessible for the vast majority of teachers, school staff, and principals, and they are being asked to step into what will undoubtedly be unsafe classrooms. This is happening just as several new, more contagious strains of the virus have arrived in Philly and across the U.S., strains that are known to affect and be carried by children. 

Yet Dr. Hite has decided it is time to reopen SDP school buildings! 

The other day, one Philly teacher wrote, “Re-opening as we are about to get the vaccine is like swimming halfway across a lake, deciding that you’re tired, and then swimming back.” And as Dr. McIver’s comments made clear, this is an absurd move for a district leader to make.

I am a teacher educator, and I can assure you the hybrid model Dr. Hite’s proposed is a stellar example of bad pedagogy. If you think online learning hasn’t been working so far, just wait until teachers aren’t able to fully use the dynamic tools for online teaching that they have been working to master all these months. And wait until kids learning from home can’t hear or see their teachers well.

If you allow schools to reopen for in-person learning before all adults can be vaccinated, we’ll hold all of you accountable when this decision inevitably results in illnesses, deaths, and community spread. If you allow this plan to be enacted, will you be holding monthly and committee meetings in person in one of these classrooms?

Instead of investing in reopening buildings for thousands of unvaccinated people, the SDP should invest in supporting the hard work that teachers have been doing all year to create dynamic online learning environments for their students. Why not reevaluate what rules and constraints are making remote learning less effective and turn to those who have been doing it particularly well – like my 6th grade daughter’s teachers at SLA@Beeber – to help the district develop better guidelines and supports to round out the year. 

Wise leadership in this moment would look at the situation realistically, allow teachers and students to keep plugging along and make a plan for a safer, more organized reopening in the fall ONCE ALL TEACHERS AND SCHOOL STAFF HAVE ACCESS TO THE VACCINE.