January 02, 2022
The spike in coronavirus infections due to the omicron variant has prompted school districts in the Philadelphia region to assess whether it's viable for students and staff to return from holiday breaks to the classrooms next week.
Among the systems opting continue with in-person instruction is the School District of Philadelphia. Its students will be back in school as planned on Tuesday, according to a letter on district's website.
"Embracing our students with caring educators and social-emotional supports in the school environments they know and love is the best way to further nurture their well-being as we enter the 2022 new year," the letter states. Students and and staff and Philly public schools have been required to wear masks since the school year began. Beginning this month, anyone who does not comply with this health protocol will be sent home for the day.
The decision to keep Philly schools open for in-person learning comes as the city is logging more COVID-19 infections than at any other point during the pandemic. Philly recorded 2,656 new cases Wednesday. About one out of every five COVID-19 tests administered came back positive.
District officials said they consulted with the Philadelphia Health Department and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia when making their decision. CHOP's PolicyLab is offering guidance to schools around the region. In a statement released Friday, hospital officials acknowledged how swiftly the omicron variant is spreading. But they also said this variant has resulted in milder illnesses for most children, and all school-age children are eligible to be vaccinated, in contrast to a year ago.
Likewise, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is also planning to continue with in-person instruction when schools reopen next week, the Inquirer reported.
The Cheltenham School District in Montgomery County will return in person, too. A letter from Superintendent Brian Scriven said they also are following the guidance from CHOP, and it will offer students not comfortable returning to class the option of learning asynchronously.
The average number of new COVID-19 infections per day in Pennsylvania from Dec. 20 and Dec. 26 was 9,979. That is an uptick of about 38% compared to previous periods, and looking at the number of cases in Pennsylvania since then, that average will increase again for the next one-week period.
A number of school districts in the region have opted to go virtual when winter break ends.
In New Jersey, the Camden City School District officials decided Wednesday that it will pivot to all-remote learning for the first two weeks of January. Students will resume full-time, in-person instruction on Tuesday, Jan. 18, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"Our top priority is the safety of our students and staff," Superintendent Katrina McCombs wrote in a letter to families. "The rising number of COVID-19 and omicron cases is of great concern for all of us and we believe full, remote learning is the right choice at this time."
Pennsauken School District in Camden County will also revert to online learning for one week, with the plan to resume in-person instruction on Jan. 10.
On Wednesday, there were 621 new COVID-19 infections in Camden County, the most that had been recorded there in a single day. Then on Thursday, the county topped that mark with 806 new confirmed cases on Thursday.
Woodbury City Public Schools in Gloucester County will operate on a half-day schedule of in-person learning next week due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Andrew Bell explained the district's own contact tracing has linked transmission among students to lunchtime when students are unmasked, and the shortened schedule will not include a lunch period.
On Wednesday, Gloucester County had its most infections in a single day since January 2021, with 246 positive tests and 311 probable cases.