COVID Reopening and Building Safety Questions

Flyer for Building Safety: COVID and Reopening Philly Schools webinar

During our recent set of webinars about Philadelphia schools’ facility conditions and safety, we had the opportunity to share information and hear questions from many caregivers and educators. (View a video of the Facebook Live recording of the webinar.)

Folks continue to be very concerned about long-term issues such as lead, asbestos, mold, and water quality, while also facing many unanswered immediate questions about safety precautions for reopening buildings in the midst of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, while we were able to gather many of these questions, we ultimately cannot answer most of them. They should be answered, but by district leadership, in public.

We’ve compiled a list below that summarizes the questions that were asked during our webinars. We encourage caregivers to reach out to city council and the school board to continue pushing for answers. It is critical that parent voices are heard!

In addition, please sign up to testify at the City Council hearing “Safely Reopening Schools” on 2/17/21 by emailing or calling 215-686-3420. You can also share your questions and concerns about the district’s current hybrid re-opening plan with Councilperson Gym via this form. 

The questions below are lightly edited for clarity and to combine/ remove duplicate topics. They were submitted via the Q&A function during the webinars and do not necessarily reflect the questions or priorities of Parents United as an organization.

Questions About General Facility Safety

  • What is the status of capital improvements as it pertains to the HVAC systems and asbestos mitigation? Has the Philadelphia School District fully addressed each building regarding the asbestos?
  • There is a lot of talk federally about funding coming to school districts. Is there any information about how the district might plan to use prospective funding? (Given the past issues with not properly addressing facility issues.)
  • Has the Philadelphia School District provided all supplies and repairs needed for each school?
  • Why isn’t the boiler room and attics in schools being tested and what can we do to demand that these rooms be tested for asbestos, mold, and lead? What about the analysis of the areas concealed by drop ceiling tiles – present in many schools?
  • SDP is about to get a lot of money from the most recent COVID funding. How can we be sure it is spent on the right things when it comes to environmental and health safety issues? Do you feel federal intervention may be warranted to help fund and rebuild in our district due to our particular circumstances?
  • To be clear, I want my child to go back to school IF the building is healthy. What I am hearing is that our schools are very unhealthy (and probably have been for a while). Are others on this call feeling the same way?

General Reopening Plan Questions (Non-Ventilation)

  • What is the safest place for k-2 students to eat lunch (and maybe breakfast) – in the classrooms or rotating through the cafeteria? Could meals be held outside at schools where that is possible?
  • Why are the teachers and other staff not being given the choice of getting vaccinated before they return to an unsafe environment? Is there any chance that our teachers will be offered a first vaccination prior to Feb 22?
  • My kid’s Kindergarten teacher told us today that there may be no recess, for fear of children touching playground equipment that is ‘contaminated.’ This is working off of data from almost a year ago that has been disproven. Any word on this?
  • How much safer would outdoor classrooms/ being outside be even in non-ideal weather? Would it significantly reduce risk if they limited their time indoors with outside time in between?
  • Water fountains are closed – how will the children remain hydrated? What if they forget a water bottle?
  • En Israel solamente maestros y personal vacunado con la primera y segunda dosis están permitidos ir a colegio y dar clases en persona. También los alumnos mayores de 16 años deben estar vacunados con las 2 dosis antes de venir al colegio a tomar clases en persona. Porque no tomamos ese ejemplo?Translation via Google Translate: “In Israel only teachers and staff vaccinated with the first and second doses are allowed to go to school and teach in person. Also, students over 16 years of age must be vaccinated with the 2 doses before coming to school to take classes in person. Why don’t we take that example?”
  • Has SDP considered alternate sites such as Liacouras center or buildings not in use due to Covid that are larger and newer?
  • What does the district know about testing staff and students regularly to help mitigate the spread of covid in 2021?
  • Who will be liable if anyone, staff, student, administrator, etc., gets COVID while in a building with poor ventilation or improperly installed ventilation?
  • What kind of safety measures are being put in place for art and music teachers who interact with all the classrooms and in a school? I understand that this kind of plan would violate the “pod” concept of separate students in classrooms.
  • Knowing that this pandemic may not have a precise “end,” what would you recommend in terms of getting kids back into class? Kids truly are suffering. How can we get kids actually BACK before the end of this school year?
  • What are the data on transmission/ infection rates in K12 schools who have been conducting in-person or hybrid teaching (obviously outside SDP)? Is there data publicly available for COVID incidence and transmission in schools in Philadelphia county that have had in person schooling since Sept?
  • To be clear, when you talk about “safe enough” conditions for a reopening, this doesn’t mean there isn’t still a transmission risk, right? What is the transmission risk in the kind of minimal safe conditions you were talking about?
  • Will there be any allotted funds to the school district for outside disinfection and sanitizing services such as electrostatic spraying?
  • There seems to be a disagreement about the definition of “substantial” transmission rate. Would you clarify what you consider the acceptable threshold for cases/100,000 and test positivity rate is?

General Ventilation Questions

  • Do individually purchased (expensive) room Air Purifiers do any good to mitigate viral load in a room? In other words, is it worth a teacher purchasing this on their own??
  • If a school had a non-working house fan what would be a reasonable fix to bring the ventilation up to a modern standard? do they need to be replaced with a different system or repaired?
  • Is there any information about the bathrooms? None of our bathrooms were tested because they have no univents and no windows, so no air circulation. Those bathrooms shouldn’t even be used now.
  • While ventilation is crucial, is it becoming sensationalized, almost a distraction (from other mitigation efforts)?
  • When will air quality retesting be completed?
  • Many school nurses’ offices are either not listed on the ventilation reports or have zero occupancy. There seem to be quite a few that have no windows. What is the next step?
  • Would it be a better use of limited resources for the SDP to purchase air purifiers for classrooms in schools without effective ventilation instead of fans and the planned investment in additional custodial staff for daily “deep cleaning”?
  • Our school is not slated for window fans (PDF is appended with ABR, not WFC) but almost every single room says that either OA dampers not working, covered with plywood, not running or not operational. Is there no fresh air but it is leaky enough for occupancy shown?

Questions About the Window Fans

  • On social media, several parents have quoted health guidelines that say fans should be used for exhaust/exchange—not to blow air in (as it may spread COVID particles to people in the room). Is this accurate, and is this a concern? Will the fans be blowing in or drawing air out of the room?
  • How close to the window fan should the closest children sit or be oriented?
  • Fans and open windows in will likely cause the classroom to be very cold in the winter. How is this supposed to be acceptable? What about the policy of turning the heating system off in the afternoon and then turning it on again in the morning?
  • My husband is a licensed electrician and electrical inspector, from what he is seeing the fans being installed are UL listed for residential use only and are in violation of article 110.3b of the national electrical code, can you confirm this?
  • My questions is the window fans that the district is putting in is for windows that go up and down/ push out?
  • How many “changes of air” do one of those window unit fans cause per hour in a typical classroom?
  • Has the district has denied [PFT experts] the ability to check the fans?
  • How will the air in rooms be filtered with window fans? Don’t you need filters to filter out CoVid?
  • Are the window fan units being proposed as a permanent solution?
  • Should schools be closed for rain and snow? My school has fans (and I have heard they are not designed for use in that kind of weather).