Plymouth Meeting, PA, January 7, 2022—On behalf of 36,000 educators, paraprofessionals, and school staff across Pennsylvania, AFT Pennsylvania President Arthur G. Steinberg issued a statement on Friday imploring the Pennsylvania Department of Education to mandate enhanced COVID-19 mitigation or pause in-person learning until the current surge subsides.
“This week, the United States set a world record for number of COVID-19 infections recorded in a 24-hour period. Here in Pennsylvania, our number of daily cases has tripled in the past two weeks. School District across the Commonwealth face staff shortages due to outbreaks and the number of students testing positive is topping 40% in some places. Much more must be done to combat this surge that is decimating our capacity to teach.
“In-person instruction is by far the best way for students to learn and for educators to teach. In addition to the academic value of in-person learning, many students across Pennsylvania rely on free and reduced-cost lunches and breakfasts. Ideally, we would keep all schools open for in-person learning all the time. However, that has become untenable with a rising rate of infection of teachers and a shortage of qualified substitute teachers.
“Therefore, we are asking the Pennsylvania Department of Education to reinstate COVID mitigation layers in all school districts, rather than the current patchwork that exists. This includes negotiated vaccination mandates for educators and school staff, masking requirements with KN95 masks or greater, and asymptomatic and pool testing of students and staff regardless of vaccination status. If these layers of mitigation cannot be instituted in a timely manner, we believe there is no choice but to pause in-person learning for two school weeks.
“Educators and other school staff want to be in classrooms; that is where they do their best work and can tend to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. But this virus, especially the current surge, has made it nearly impossible to deliver the services our educators are tasked with delivering.”