School district to purchase air purifiers for every classroom

School District of Philadelphia Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil geatures toward two air purifiers Thursday, July 15, at Juniata Park Academy.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Air purifiers using technology developed by NASA will be in every Philadelphia public school classroom when students return in August, officials said Thursday, addressing a key teachers’ union concern.

Educators ridiculed and protested a plan rolled out in February to install fans in under-ventilated rooms as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The School District of Philadelphia ditched the idea following a mediator-brokered agreement in which administrators and union experts reviewed air flow data and approved school buildings to reopen on a rolling basis.

Reggie McNeil, the district’s chief operating officer, said the school system is spending $4.5 million on the purifiers, which come in three models to outfit different-sized instructional areas.

“This is money well-spent,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said. “I hope that, first of all, it is going to resolve any dispute about the need for ventilation in our school buildings for the children and for the staff.”

Jordan told Metro that teachers are “anxious to get back to teaching kids face-to-face.”

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union President Jerry Jordan speaks Thursday, July 15, about the new air purifiers at a press briefing at Juniata Park Academy.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Superintendent William Hite said Thursday that the district is preparing for a return of all students Aug. 31. Some high schoolers haven’t attended an in-person class since March 2020.

For now, students and staff will be required to wear masks. Employees will be tested every week, and one-fifth of all children will be tested weekly, Hite said. In addition, cleaning protocols and hand sanitizing stations will remain in place.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month issued guidance saying that all unvaccinated people should continue wearing masks inside school buildings. No COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for children under the age of 12.

About 60% of the district’s 20,000-person workforce was vaccinated through a program overseen by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia earlier this year. Others may have registered for shots on their own.

Officials said they do not have any information about how many eligible students have been vaccinated.

Just over 28,000 city residents between the ages of 12 and 17 have received at least one dose, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Some public schools will begin serving as vaccination sites later this month, Hite said, though he added that he is not sure whether inoculations will be offered during the school year.

Superintendent William Hite said masks will still be mandatory for all students and staff returning in August.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Masking is “especially important” when 3 feet of distancing cannot be maintained, the CDC said. Hite said the district is not able to meet that guidance in all circumstances.

District parents will be able to enroll their child in a virtual curriculum for the upcoming academic year; however, unlike this past term, there will be no hybrid option. Instead, dedicated virtual teachers will lead remote classes.

Hite said more information about the 100% online option will be released in the coming weeks.

Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Phillya collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly