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Suburban Students, Teachers Back In Classrooms For Months As Heated Debate Continues In Philadelphia

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) -- In less than two weeks, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will begin vaccinating Philadelphia teachers. It's all in an attempt to get students back to classrooms.

However, students and teachers in the suburbs have been in classrooms for months, even without a vaccination.

"Teachers and kids deserve safety and we deserve to have schools that are open, that are safe," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

As heated debates continue in Philadelphia about how to reopen classrooms, in the suburbs, it's already a reality.

"We feel like, with all the layering of health precautions that we're doing in our district, it's, I think, probably the safest place to be for students and adults," said Garnet Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Marc Bertrando.

The school district's 5,000 students returned to classrooms in a hybrid model in late September. Since then, Bertrando says, they've only had one case of in school transmission.

The superintendent credits their cleaning protocols and expanded testing for their low transmission rate. Bertrando also says they have newer schools, their classrooms are bigger and their HVAC systems were recently overhauled.

The differences between suburban schools and the inner city are huge. But they both agree that teachers being able to get their vaccine is the game changer.

"We need to have a vaccine plan," Philadelphia City Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson said. "Where's the vaccination plan for all of our teachers who are educating our young people?"

"It's the great equalizer. We get the vaccination, kids come back to school, communities return to a level of normalcy that they haven't seen in over a year," Bertrando said.

A parent told Eyewitness News that they agreed with the district's reopening plans but questions whether or not their child is learning properly. About 50% of students are in classrooms at one time as the other half are learning remotely.

Bertrando says they have plans to further open schools, but says that will not happen unless teachers are vaccinated.

In an email to parents sent this week, Bertrando said, due to shortages in available vaccinations, schools likely won't fully reopen this school year.

"It's time that somebody makes good on the promise that education is a priority in this state," Bertrando said.

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