Students return to Philly schools after 18 months as teachers' contract nears expiration

The first day of school is also the last day of the teachers' contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021
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"It's so exciting for me because I never been to school in a year," said one student.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Students and teachers in Philadelphia returned to the classroom Tuesday as district leaders try to make it over a few more hurdles, including negotiations of the teachers' contract and vaccine mandate.

This is the first time in 18 months the district is holding five-day a week, in-person learning.

"First day back. We're excited to get kids back," said Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite.

RELATED: Philly students return to 5-day, in-person learning after 18 months

Hite and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney attended the grand opening ceremony of the combined campus of Samuel Powell Elementary and Science Leadership Academy Middle School in Powelton.

The campus is one of three that are opening this school year.

The first day of school is also the last day of the teachers' contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The union represents more than 13,000 school district employees.

"Negotiations are happening and we're going to be actively pursuing an agreement. I don't know when soon is, but soon could be before midnight or it could be after," Hite said.

RELATED: Get ready for the new school year with this Back to School Town Hall

Teachers' union officials tell Action News that the timeline will depend on the district and when they believe a fair contract is met.

Hite is also working on separate negotiations concerning the vaccine mandate for all district employees.

"We hope to have something out no later than next week," Hite said.

Hite also said that all teachers have returned to the classroom at Masterman School.

Teachers protested Monday over concerns that there might be asbestos. Hite said the building is safe.

"Their union supported them coming back into the classroom and we've asked them to come back," Hite said.

RELATED: Philly's Masterman School teachers voice concerns about asbestos, demand action

Students and teachers at the Science Learning Academy at Beeber will remain all virtual at least until Wednesday, Sept. 8 when building renovations are done.

"That work is happening this morning and will happen over the next several days so that young people can come back next week," Hite said.

Back to School Excitement

With enthusiasm, with happy waves, and even 'Happy New Year' headbands, teachers and students greeted each other at Wright Elementary in Strawberry Mansion.

"It's so exciting for me because I never been to school in a year," said fourth grader Daria Williams.

Fourth grader Lailah Scott added, "Fourth grade is lit, and I love school!"

As for fellow fourth grader Dahmire Scott Peterson, "The first day of school is the best day of my life because we have been in virtual for a year. For a year! So being in the school it makes me feel this feeling-this very happy feeling."

Meanwhile, mother Megan Brown was readying breakfast and leaving a loving note as son Paul packed up for his first day of first grade at Cook-Wissahickon.

Paul was on a hybrid schedule last spring, but now he can attend in-person full time. Safety precautions like masks are in place.

"It doesn't bother me," said Paul.

His mother said, "I feel like the school and the school district are taking every precaution that they can to try to think of all of the scenarios and put things into place to protect the kids and the staff."

Back to school time is extra special for the Payne Family.

Andre Payne is starting second grade at Wright, where mom Jeannine Payne is principal.

"It's definitely double duty," Jeannine said.

She continued, "I am organizing as a school leader, but I am also thinking- so how would I do that? How would I figure it out? How would I receive that as a parent?"

Jeannine was eager to welcome her students back after preparing for this day for months.

As for Andre, he eagerly anticipated his favorite subject, and did his part too.

"You have to get a notebook. You have to get lunch," Andre said. "I'm hoping to learn by favorite thing- science."

Jeannine acknowledged both joy and challenges in her duel role.

"It's hardest on the first day of school. Because while everybody else is taking the first day of school pictures, I'm in it with other kids but I can't take the selfie with my son. So we do it much earlier in the morning or we make sure we get the end of the first day shot. But he's here. And I know that's not an opportunity all parents get so I'm very grateful for that," Jeannine said.