Philadelphia school district will likely keep masks in place after state mask term expires, Hite says

The Philadelphia School District will not lift its mask mandate unless U.S. and city health officials say children can safely remove face coverings, Superintendent William R said Tuesday. . Hite Jr ..

Gov. Tom Wolf had said he would lift the Pennsylvania statewide school masking order on Jan. 17 – and that a court order could end it even sooner – allowing local school districts decide if they want to go hide optional.

But Hite, who appeared on Tuesday with Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Noe Ortega at Lamberton Elementary in West Philadelphia, noted that Philadelphia had its mask mandate in place before Pennsylvania’s was enacted. He and Ortega said their priority was to pursue school in person and suggested that masking was the best way to achieve that goal.

“We will continue with the masking until the guidelines suggest otherwise,” Hite said. Vaccines have just become available for the majority of students in the district – 1,000 Philadelphia students aged 5 to 11 received vaccines at district clinics over the weekend – and COVID-19 is still a reality. , said the superintendent.

Masks remain a burning issue at the state level. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court this month overturned Health Secretary Alison Beam’s masking order for schools, saying Beam did not have the authority to issue such an order. The state appealed, which kept the order in place, but the court said on Tuesday the suspension would be lifted on December 4. It is not known if Beam could impose a new order.

But Ortega stressed the need to continue to remain vigilant against COVID-19, with masks and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It’s not just about face coverings or other things that people want to highlight,” Ortega said. “It’s about the collection of things that we do, and these are things that keep our schools open. “

In Philadelphia, Hite said masking was still part of a layered mitigation strategy approved by the CDC and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and he noted that the district was also working on weekly testing for all. unvaccinated students, as recommended by the city health department.

Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole made this recommendation weeks ago, but the district was unable to offer this test – except for symptomatic students, student athletes and some children who participate in artistic activities.

“We are still putting in place the structures to do it,” Hite said. “It’s just a matter of capacity for us.”

School nurses, who are responsible for testing symptomatic students, are overworked and will not test unvaccinated children, Hite said.

The overall COVID-19 positivity rate reported by the district for staff and students is less than 1%, Hite said.

Hite and Ortega – who visited Lamberton, reading a book to second-graders and viewing the third-graders digital literacy course – both stressed the importance of getting children back to school after more than one year of interrupted apprenticeship.

Introducing a group of Lamberton teachers gathered for a meeting, Ortega said their work was vital.

“What are we going to do about all of this missed learning over the past 18 months? I’m sure you’re cracking the code right now, ”Ortega said.

The school year has been tough, with COVID-19, a gun violence crisis and staffing shortages stretching lean school workers. One school district in Oregon struggled so hard with staff that it switched to a four-day week, at least temporarily.

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Ortega said it was not an option on the table for Pennsylvania.

“We want to stay the course to deliver full weeks in person,” Ortega said.

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