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Philadelphia Teachers Protest Schools Reopening Over COVID-19 Fears, 'Unsafe Conditions' At Buildings

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - For the first time in a year, teachers returned to Henry A. Brown Elementary School in Kensington Monday, but they never walked through the doors. Instead, they demonstrated outside -- calling out the district for its reopening plans.

Philadelphia public school teachers did not return to their classrooms Monday as planned by the district. They are at odds with the district over COVID-19 safety measures.

"We're being told not to gather in small groups just yet and to send educators and students back into school goes against everything our government is telling us to do right now," parent Lauren Stichter said.

Stichter is the mother of a 4th grader at the school. While she says she wants Shirley to return to class, she's more concerned with her health.

"I know the district is trying its best, but I'd like to see our teachers vaccinated before they get in here," Stichter said.

The teachers' demonstration was one of over a dozen demonstrations as part of a day of action across Philadelphia.

Teachers in grades pre-K through 2nd were supposed to return to classrooms Monday, and then the students were to return in two weeks on Feb. 22. But on Friday, Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told his union members not to show up.

"We do want to come back, but we want to come back safely," Elanda Toliver said.

Many teachers and parents turned out at Gompers Elementary saying it's still too unsafe to return to schools in the midst of a pandemic.

"Anyone who knows anything about ventilation -- and I'm a social studies teacher, not a science teacher --  but I call the experts, 'What do these do?'" said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

"I'm ready to go back but I'm ready to go back into a building that I know is ready for me," teacher Charlotte McCracken said.

National Teachers' Union officials believe the Philadelphia School District has not done enough to implement proper safety measures in school buildings. They're not fans of the fans that have been installed to increase ventilation.

"If you use them in schools this way, you're going to actually freeze children and teachers because you'll be opening the windows so wide that on a day like this it will be freezing in classrooms," Weingarten said. "Teachers and kids deserve safety and we deserve schools that are open and that are safe."

Educators are demonstrating at dozens of schools around the city making their voices heard, many still teaching outside in the bitter cold.

Meanwhile, the school district says mediation is still ongoing and they're still planning on students returning to classrooms later this month.

Parents say they are sticking behind their teachers.

"I don't think we should ask people to put their lives at risk. It's just not worth it," Stichter said.

The city says teachers will not face any disciplinary actions for not returning to schools just yet. They are awaiting the findings of a third-party mediator to weigh in on whether buildings are safe enough to reopen.

In response to Monday's demonstrations, the school district released a statement reading in part: "While our teachers and other PFT members are not required to return to schools at this time as we await next steps from the mediator, we continue to encourage them to return to schools so we are prepared to phase in the 9,000 PreK-2 students whose families want and need for their children to resume in-person learning on February 22."

CBS3's Natasha Brown and Howard Monroe contributed to this report.

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