Why are negotiations over reopening Philadelphia schools dragging on so long?

Big cities across the nation, from Boston to New York to Chicago, have managed to hammer out differences between their school districts and teachers’ unions over the gradual reopening of schools. In Philadelphia, not so much.

Here, school buildings have been closed for nearly a year. A mediation process between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the district has dragged for weeks, delaying the district’s planned opening of schools for some prekindergarten through second grade students until March 1. Teachers refused to re-enter buildings on Feb. 8 to prepare, choosing to protest outside their schools instead.

On display is a long legacy of mistrust in the district’s administration, something that predates current superintendent William Hite but has intensified during his eight-year tenure. The school building stock is old and has a history of damning safety problems and deferred maintenance. Several years ago a teacher contracted mesothelioma, which is specifically related to asbestos exposure; in 2017 a first-grader got lead poisoning from eating paint chips that fell on his desk; a $40 million co-location project was so severely bungled that students from two schools had to travel elsewhere for an entire semester.

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