Dec 21, 2021 - COVID

Philadelphia student's death from COVID-19 triggers staff to call out

Olney Charter High School

Olney Charter High School. Photo courtesy of Google Maps

More than 40 staff members at Olney Charter High School called out on Monday following the death of a 17-year-old student from complications of COVID-19.

Driving the news: The ASPIRA of Pennsylvania school was forced to move its nearly 1,800 students to virtual learning this week due to the no-shows.

  • The school has approximately 150 staff members, of which 125 are members of the Alliance of Charter School Employees Local 6056 union.

Context: Alayna Thach, a senior at the school who was slated to graduate in June, died from virus-related complications last week, NBC10 reports.

  • Her funeral was held this weekend.

The big picture: COVID-19 infections are rising in Philadelphia, and health officials are warning against holiday gatherings with other households.

What they're saying: The school administration has accused the union of conducting the mass call-out, which would violate the union's collective bargaining agreement.

  • Olney principal James Thompson said he believes Thach's death is being used to "possibly further an agenda."
  • He also defended the school’s health protocols, saying that officials go "far above and beyond" to protect students and staff. Not a single COVID case has been traced back to the school, Thompson added.

Of note: The school uses pool testing strategies to detect COVID among students and plans to expand the effort to include staff in January.

The other side: The union did not organize the mass call-out, said Sarah Kenney, vice president of Local 6056, in a released statement.

  • Thach's death "should have been a wake-up call" for school managers and a "sign that we need a more robust COVID mitigation strategy," she said.
  • The union is demanding that ASPIRA put in place additional COVID health protocols, including more virus testing and nursing staff. Members are also calling for a plan for physical distancing in certain areas of the school.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, which represents the local union affiliate to which the charter school staff belong, blasted ASPIRA in a released statement.

  • "ASPIRA's dishonest reaction to pleas for safety in the wake of the death of a 12th grader just last week from COVID-19 clearly illustrates their depraved priorities — more concerned with their public image than with the safety of students and staff," wrote Arthur Steinberg, president of AFT Pennsylvania.

What's next: The school is exploring legal options to determine next steps, Thompson said.

  • Virtual learning will remain in place at the school through Thursday, when students go on winter break, and for a week after students return in January.

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