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Philadelphia superintendent wants educators to be among first to get vaccine

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite speaking into a microphone during a press conference.
Superintendent William Hite said on Thursday when schools return to hybrid learning the district will have some sort of testing protocol in place for teachers and students, which would include rapid testing.
Emma Lee/WHYY

When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, educators should be among the first to receive it, schools superintendent William Hite said Thursday.

He said he and other school leaders in urban districts are advocating for teachers to get priority after healthcare workers and people in assisted living facilities.

“Right now as you know healthcare workers are the priority along with individuals in assisted living and we are trying to make the case that the next group of individuals becomes educators,” Hite said. “So people want to restart the economy, children need to be back in school. We are advocating on a national level to be prioritized.”

He also said when the city’s district schools return to hybrid learning the district will have some sort of testing protocol in place for teachers and students, which would include rapid testing. The school district delayed its reopening plan last month amid rising positivity rates in Philadelphia. The city’s positivity rate is past 13% and higher than New York City.

State health officials said the COVID-19 vaccination would be optional for the state’s K–12 public school students. Health Secretary Rachel Levine said on Monday, “We have no plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine required for anyone, including for school children.”

Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said on Tuesday that hospitalizations are increasing and there’s a growing concern about cases increasing after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We are still concerned that hospitals may come under strain just in the next two to three weeks,” Farley said.

Hite said Thursday the district would do “anything we need to do” to ensure students have access to the vaccine when it becomes available. Most of the district’s students are Black and Latino, two groups hit hardest by the virus.

As of Tuesday 1,665 additional COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Philadelphia, which brings the total number of cases to 68,690. There have been about 1,990 deaths.

The district reversed its plans to start hybrid learning for pre-kindergarten through second grade students last month. Hite said he made the decision after consultations with city and state health officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“Transitioning to hybrid learning and having students engage in face-to-face instruction is our goal, but our top priority is the health and well-being of our students and staff,” Hite said, adding that “as with everything we’ve done over the last eight months, we have to be flexible” in responding to conditions.

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