费城及其周边地区的学校将在新学年全面恢复线下面对面授课，然而，并非每个家庭都为此感到兴奋。华埠残障人士维权项目（Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project）的联合创始人Mandy Lin有一个10岁接受特殊教育服务的儿子，在大费城地区的新冠确诊病例数量不断上升的情况下，她和许多家长一样，十分担心孩子在学校里的安全。
As schools in Philadelphia and the surrounding area begin the school year with fully in-person learning, not every family is thrilled for the supposed return to normalcy. Mandy Lin, co-founder of the Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project, who has a 10-year-old son who receives special education services, was one of the parents concerned about her child’s safety in Philadelphia schools amidst the rise of Covid-19 cases in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
林女士的儿子还不符合疫苗接种的条件，而且由于自身的障碍，他无法一直佩戴口罩。许多像林女士儿子这样有特殊需求的学生在（佩戴口罩）材质和面料方面都有问题，他们也无法理解为什么佩戴口罩这么不舒服却还是不能摘下来。费城学区的许多学生家长对于费城学校内发生其他的令人沮丧的事情，和林女士有同样的担忧。林女士六年前作为联合创始人建立了华埠残障人士维权项目。此次她带头起草了一份请愿书，列出了大家关心的一些问题，并提出希望看到什么样的变化或解决方法。超过两百九十个家庭在这份请愿书上签了字，请愿书也已被寄给宾夕法尼亚州的教育部官员，包括教育部部长Noe Ortega以及费城学区的主管Dr. William Hite。
Lin’s son, who is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, has trouble keeping his mask on due to his disabilities. Many special needs children like Lin’s son have issues with textures and fabrics, and do not understand why the uncomfortable mask needs to be worn. Other parents of Philadelphia School District children shared the same concerns as Lin, along with other frustrations happening within Philadelphia schools. Lin, who co-founded the Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project 6 years ago, took initiative to compile a list of concerns signed by over 290 families, and what they would like to see changed as a response, and sent it to Pennsylvania education officials such as Secretary of Education Noe Ortega and Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite.
Lin came up with the idea for the letter after hearing repetitive concerns from fellow parents across Philadelphia. The organization is made of immigrant parents of children with disabilities as well as advocates and governmental partners fighting for inclusion and justice for people with disabilities in the Philadelphia area.
“The voices were just overwhelming,” says Lin, “So many of our families and parents in our WeChat group share the same concerns and didn’t know how to voice themselves. These parents include parents of kids without disabilities but they’re no less concerned than others about the risk.”
Compiling hours of research and concerns from parents of all students, Lin drafted the letter and sent it to officials, hopeful for a response.
请愿书呼吁教育部代表对线下的面对面授课提出更安全更严格的要求，例如，对无症状的学生及教职工进行一周一次的核酸检测，学校与家长之间要有更清晰的交流，以及最重要的是能提供一个比费城虚拟学院（Philadelphia Virtual Academy）更好的教学方案（费城虚拟学院是目前费城地区唯一替代面对面授课的教学项目）。
The letter pleaded with education representatives for safer and stricter requirements for in-person learning such as weekly testing for asymptomatic students and faculty, clearer communication between schools and district parents, and most importantly a better alternative to the Philadelphia Virtual Academy, Philadelphia’s only alternative to in-person instruction.
The Philadelphia Virtual Academy opened in 2013 as a cost-free alternative to in-person learning for grades 6-12. Enrolling in the program forfeits the student’s spot in the Philadelphia public school and is “less than ideal for families like us,” referring to families who have trouble following a fully asynchronous online format, and families of immigrants who are not familiar with the all-English curriculum. According to Lin, the Philadelphia Virtual Academy offers translation services, but families who do not speak fluent English rely on bilingual counseling assistants at their schools. The Philadelphia Virtual Academy does not have this type of support available. According to a chart by the Statistical Atlas, 55.7% of Chinese people in Philadelphia do not speak English very well, and the percentage is even larger for Vietnamese people.
The Philadelphia Virtual Academy, which claims to cater to families looking for quality online education, had parental complaints of incomplete enrollment status on the first day of school on August 31. For in-person schools, Lin heard complaints from parents regarding transportation issues like school buses failing to pick up students or arriving an hour late to do so, infringing of students’ learning.
The concerns about the first two weeks did not stop at transportation. A friend of Lin expressed dire frustration of being told on the second day of class her special needs son had to be transferred to another school due to the overpopulation of 16 students in the autistic support classroom. According to Pennsylvania regulations, only 8 students are to be in each classroom. The school changed the students’ placement without even holding a meeting with families. The school claimed that the classroom was full because existing students opted to participate in Pennsylvania Act 66, which allows parents, caretakers, and all K-12 students to opt to repeat the previous grade level if they feel they did not obtain the educational knowledge due to the pandemic. “These are the kind of issues that could have been addressed and families notified way ahead of time,” Lin said.
由于没有收到学校董事会和当地官员的回复，林女士与其他家长越来越失望。尽管没有教育部官员做过回应，但费城卫生部的代理卫生专员Dr. Cheryl Bettigole阅读了这封信并联系了学区，建议每周进行两次无症状新冠病毒检测，专门针对不能戴口罩的学生。Dr. Bettigole说，如果这些学生因为残疾而无法耐受测试，“他们将不会被要求进行检测。”Bettigole保证，学生们的健康与安全都会被优先对待。
Lin as well as other parents have become increasingly frustrated over the lack of response from the school board and local officials in response to their letter. While no education officials have responded, the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole read the letter and reached out to the School District, recommending twice weekly asymptomatic testing in classrooms with specifically for students who cannot wear masks. Dr. Bettigole said that if these students are unable to tolerate testing due to their disability, “they would not be required to be tested if that were the case.” Bettigole assured that the health and safety of students is being prioritized.
Mandy, and her co-founder of the Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project, Anna Perng, followed up with the Philadelphia Department of Health with concerns of Philadelphia as a city with “substantial transmission,” and no transparency or little communications about staff testing, vaccinations, and quarantine policies for the school year. Although the District provides interpretation for families wishing to testify at Board of Education meetings, the meetings are conducted in English only so families are unable to understand what is being discussed or voted on. Asian and immigrant families feel significantly underrepresented in the decisions for yet another pandemic-filled school year.
When Metro Chinese Weekly reached out to Superintendent Hite in regard to these concerns, we failed to receive a response. However, we did hear back from the Pennsylvania Department of Education who touched on the safety of public schools by simply referring us to their Frequently Asked Questions page regarding protecting medically fragile and higher risk students.
The page said, “To protect immunocompromised students, schools should implement layered prevention strategies, such as requiring masks, promoting vaccination, improving ventilation, and physical distancing.”
This summarizes that it is still up to the individual school districts to implement safety measures, and once again raises Lin and other parents’ concern about the lack of communication between the school district and parents regarding the safety measures put in place.
On August 31, the acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health announced that beginning September 7, 2021, all schools across the state would require a mask mandate for in-person learning. This comes a little too late according to many parents and community members, as many schools will already have been in session for two weeks before the order goes into effect. On August 25th, the Philadelphia School District announced that they will be requiring the Covid-19 vaccine for all district staff. While these steps are certainly headed in the direction of lowering the rising Covid-19 cases, it does not necessarily settle the nerves of parents like Lin whose children are not yet eligible for the vaccine and cannot wear a mask during the long school day.
With schools now weeks underway and the virus continuing to rise, parents of all students are sitting back to see what is to come of the new school year. They will see if the Philadelphia School District is able to continue their plan of in-person instruction 5 days a week and if the Philadelphia Virtual Academy continues to serve as a viable online option for those who wish to remain at home.