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Philadelphia schools plan to bring back some young students for hybrid, in-person learning in February

Students whose families expressed interest in in-person learning in the fall will be the first group to return to schools two days per week after a year of virtual learning. is one of 20+ news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice.

Update: On 2/17/2021, The School District of Philadelphia announced it would be pushing the start date of in-person instruction back to March 1. It also announced it was working with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to begin vaccinating District employees. CHOP will begin sending invitations to the first cohort of about 10,000 individuals, and folks can make an appointment at one of seven locations across the city. 

On Wednesday, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite announced the most recent plan for returning to in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Beginning Feb. 22, pre-kindergarten through second-grade students whose families expressed interest in hybrid learning in the fall will be allowed to return to school buildings, Hite said. School staff will begin going into schools on Feb. 8.

This plan marks the district’s third attempt at a return to in-person instruction since the virus became present in the Philadelphia area last spring. Over the summer, the District decided to begin the year completely virtually and assess the state of the virus in November, but a COVID-19 surge halted that restart.

The plan includes more than 9,000 students, Hite said at a virtual press conference today. The new current model includes two days of in-person learning for students and three days of digital instruction.

There’s no specific timeline for students outside of this first group to return to some in-person learning but Hite said he’s hoping it can happen “as soon as possible,” maybe March or April, depending on this first phase’s success.

The decision has been made with guidance from the CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Health, teachers, school leaders, union leaders and public health experts, Hite said.

“We know our younger students learn best in-person,” he said.

These young students are likely having a harder time with digital instruction, and the next group of children to be considered if this pilot is successful would be “complex learners” in grades three through 12, such as English-as-a-second-language or special needs students, Hite said.

Digital access has also been an issue for many Philadelphia families engaging in remote schooling.

Gail Carter-Hamilton, the City’s pediatric resource manager, will consult as a COVID-19 mitigator with this reopening. She detailed some of the district’s measures in place — social distancing, increased access to PPE, maximum capacity on classrooms, plexiglass barriers and cleaning methods — but said the school’s won’t be totally immune to the virus, even with these efforts.

“It will come to the schools. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she said. “But it’s rare to see outbreaks, with mitigation efforts in place.”

Of the roughly 200 schools that have been open in the Philadelphia region, 19 of them have experienced in-school spread since August, Carter-Hamilton said. Some of those cases were linked to extracurriculars at high schools, prompting a pause on those activities.

Educators were recently moved up to the current 1B phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, but it could take weeks or months for teachers who want them to get appointments, Hite said. It’s not a condition of return, he added, but they’re advocating for educators to be vaccinated as soon as they’re able.

“Kids have been out of school buildings for a year, and we need to figure out a way to get them back,” Councilperson Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez said.

Companies: School District of Philadelphia
Series: Philadelphia Journalism Collaborative

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