HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The president of Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union expressed support Monday for in-person instruction in the fall, calling it a “top priority” now that many teachers have been vaccinated and older children have become eligible for the COVID-19 shot.
“As more students are vaccinated over the summer, we believe that in-person instruction is achievable in a way that keeps everyone safe,” said Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 178,000 active and retired educators, health care workers and others.
“Educators and support professionals look forward to working with school district leaders, parents, and community members to get students on a pathway to achievement as we emerge from this pandemic," he said.
Askey’s statement came days after the leaders of the nation’s two major teachers unions, including PSEA’s parent union, the National Education Association, called for a full return to in-person learning.
Most Pennsylvania schools have already resumed at least some in-person instruction, though some are sticking with virtual learning at least through the end of the current academic year. In March, the state prioritized teachers for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a bid to help schools reopen.
In Philadelphia, Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said Monday that teachers there are on board with a full in-person return this fall. Tens of thousands of students in Philadelphia recently became eligible to return to class part-time, though most parents have opted to keep their children learning remotely this year, according to district officials.
“With increasing vaccination rates and availability, along with the expansion of vaccinations to children, we are well on our way to combatting this virus,” Jordan said. “As we look to expand this opening to a full time program in the fall, we will continue to ensure that it is done safely in accordance with evolving science.”
Pennsylvania schools are getting nearly $5 billion from the federal COVID-19 aid package to address learning loss from the pandemic, and to use for professional training, technology, cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs, and mental health services and other expenses.