City, School District of Philadelphia and teachers’ union officials Monday announced pre-K through second-grade students will begin returning to 22 additional schools for in-person learning Monday, April 5.
Teachers and support staff for the 22 schools will return to buildings this Wednesday to prepare for the students’ return.
The previous three waves of school reopenings have gone well, said Monica M. Lewis, deputy chief of communications and spokesperson for the school district.
“Parents are excited to have their children back in school and schools are happy to have the students there. We feel like our youngest learners needed to be in classrooms. And now that it’s safe to do so we are moving forward with this plan,” said Lewis said.
This is the fourth set of schools to reopen since the district and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) agreed on a process allowing the union to individually review plans for all schools and start bringing students and staff back for in-person instruction. The agreement was reached following a mediation process led by a city-appointed third party.
“The Learning Model Selection Survey for pre-K-2 families closes tomorrow, Tuesday, March 23. Pre-K-2 students whose families are now opting into hybrid learning will start in-person learning two times per week beginning the week of April 5th,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a letter to school district families. “Now that PFT leaders have completed their readiness reviews for all schools serving pre-K-2 students, they will begin reviews for the remaining schools.”
The teachers union credited the mediation process for getting some school buildings open.
“As a result of the ongoing process for reviewing school building safety for reoccupancy, we were able to clear spaces within 16 additional schools today. As a direct result of the mediation process ... we have been able to review documents related to ventilation, square footage and asbestos,” said Hillary Linardopoulos, PFT’s legislative representative. “This undertaking is a painstaking space-by-space analysis to ensure that each room reviewed is safe for occupancy by students and educators.”
Principals have been in their schools since the start of the school year, Lewis said.
“They’re the ones who are monitoring work that is being done in schools and making sure things are in place,” she said. “So, when it was time for us to open schools for students, the principals were there to make sure everything was happening according to our plan.”
Lewis said the district hopes to continue bringing in more students and “of course, doing so safely and making sure that everything is in place to allow for our students and our staff to have the best learning and instruction environment possible.”
There is no timeline yet to bring back older students at the elementary schools or at the middle and high schools.
The district has been working with PFT to make sure that whatever plans are in place have been developed in coordination with the Department of Public Health and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Lewis said the district has also taken guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “making sure that we had everything in place so we can begin to bring in additional students after this first wave of students come on board.”
Pre-K through second-grade students whose families do not complete the survey will remain in 100% digital learning. “Any families that choose to engage in hybrid learning have every opportunity to change their mind,” Lewis said. “But we just want to make sure their families are aware that they do have the option to get into hybrid if they so choose.”
Students participating in hybrid learning will attend school in person two days per week and have digital learning three days each week, based on an assigned schedule designed to safely limit the number of students in schools and help maintain social distancing throughout the day.
The school district has put in place layers of safety including:
Mandatory mask wearing or other facial covering, which will be provided to students and staff.
Rapid testing for students and staff.
New classroom setups and signage for social distancing.
Touchless hand sanitizer stations.
Maximum occupancy signs.
Enhanced cleaning protocols.
A COVID-19 testing program in place for students and staff.