July 28, 2020
The School District of Philadelphia has reversed course on bringing students back to class when the new academic year begins in September.
Instead, schools will conduct online-only instruction at least through the first marking period, which ends Nov. 17, district officials announced Tuesday. At that point, students will transition to a mix of in-person and remote learning, as long as local health officials deem it safe.
The new plan will be formally considered Thursday by the school board.
The district initially had sought to implement a hybrid model this fall, bringing students back to class on certain days and having them learn remotely on others.
Superintendent William Hite said the changes were made after district officials heard "from many families and educators who are uneasy with the plan." COVID-19 transmission has ticked upward in Philadelphia in recent weeks, and many people fear the coronavirus could spread easily within schools.
"I believe it’s important to listen," Hite wrote in a letter to parents and families. "And it’s important to have your trust and support as we all try to create a plan that will help our children learn in an environment we have never experienced."
The first day of school for all K-12 students is still scheduled for Sept. 2. It previously had been bumped back from Aug. 31 to allow time for teachers to receive additional professional development. Those sessions will be aimed at helping teachers adapt to providing online instruction.
An initiative called "Healing Together" is being developed to meet the mental health, trauma and social and emotional needs of students and staff until in-person classes can resume.
The district is dissolving the Digital Academy that would have served as an alternative to the hybrid learning model. Students who had selected this option would not have been able to attend class in person until the end of the first marking period – at the earliest.
Any student who needs a computer for online learning will be provided a Chromebook. District officials said they are working to make Chromebook distribution as convenient as possible.
Additionally, city officials are working with a number of local internet companies to provide reliable internet access to students in need. Students also can continue to receive meals from schools at various pickup locations.
"These changes were not made lightly," Hite added in his letter. "All of the decisions we are making due to the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult ones with no obvious answers for how to account for the many, and often competing, needs of our students, staff and families.
"We continue to thoughtfully weigh our fundamental responsibility to meet the many educational needs of our students while also supporting everyone’s safety and well-being and considering all of the input and feedback we’ve received at board meetings and through surveys, town halls and online."
The new plan also will give the district more time to improve facilities, Hite said.
Two weeks ago, the district announced it was seeking to implement a staggered, hybrid schedule that would have organized students into A and B groups. One group would have attended classes in person on Mondays and Wednesdays; the other would have been in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All students would have learned from home on Fridays, which the district had set aside for additional school cleaning.
However, feedback to the district’s plan for the upcoming school year was mixed, at best.
The hybrid learning model prompted protests as recently as last weekend. Students, parents and teachers called for all-virtual learning this fall – a step taken by schools in several other American cities.
In early July, the district released the results of a survey of more than 36,000 students, parents, guardians and staff members. Of the 15,000 parents who responded, only 47% said they would send their kids back to schools under the current circumstances. If safety measures were put in place, 62% said they would let their children return.