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November 10, 2020

School District of Philadelphia postpones return to in-person learning

City schools will continue with online-only instruction until further notice

Education Coronavirus
school district of philadelphia hybrid learning.jpg Feliphe Schiarolli/via Unsplash

Roughly two-thirds of the 32,000 children eligible to return to the classroom later this month in Philly had opted to indefinitely continue with all-remote learning.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the city, the School District of Philadelphia has walked back plans to begin implementing a hybrid instruction model of in-person and virtual learning later this month.

All Philly schools will continue with online-only classes until further notice, Superintendent Dr. William Hite announced on Tuesday. 

In a letter addressed to school district families, Hite wrote that the decision to postpone a return to the classroom came about after receiving updated guidance from state and local health and education officials. 

Hite wrote that a continuation of all-remote instruction will "help safeguard the health and well-being of our staff, students, and families."

"We realize this is disappointing news for many students and families who want to resume in-person learning, but safety has been and will remain our highest priority," Hite wrote. "As we continue with full digital learning, we remain fully committed to supporting the needs of our students and families."

The school district is still planning to implement a hybrid learning model this academic year, but it will not pursue such endeavors until health and education officials deem it safe to do so. Families who opted into the hybrid learning model will be allowed to keep their selection once the school district is cleared to resume some in-person instruction, Hite wrote.

"As I've said before, COVID-19 conditions are ever changing, requiring all of us to be flexible," Hite wrote. "We must expect and be prepared for those changes as we work together to support everyone's health and well-being."

Some teachers were scheduled to return to their classrooms next week in preparation for the resumption of in-person learning at the end of November, according to the Inquirer

The teachers union, however, had strongly opposed any resumption of in-person instruction as coronavirus infections continued to spike in Philly. 

"The health and safety of our educators and students has been, and will continue to be, our top priority," the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers wrote on its Facebook page.

The school district’s 120,000 students have been partaking in all-virtual learning since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Last month, the school district unveiled plans to methodically implement a hybrid learning model if families were interested in having their students return to the classroom this academic year.

The multi-phase plan, which consisted of two days of in-person learning and three days of remote instruction, would have begun in late November with students in Pre-Kindergarten through second grade returning to school.

The second stage would have brought back students in grades 3 to 12 with physical disabilities, sensory impairments, severe medical conditions and significant learning disabilities. Those students would have returned in January. 

The third phase, comprising ninth graders and students enrolled in career and technical education programs, did not yet have a targeted return date. 

The order and timing for additional students to return would have been determined based on the conditions of the public health crisis. 

Students who chose the hybrid instruction model would have attended school on a staggered schedule to limit the number of people in buildings each day. One group of students would have gone to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and have remote learning the rest of the week. A second group would have had in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays and online learning the first three days of the week. 

However, given that the remote learning option was not mandatory, roughly two-thirds of the 32,000 children eligible to return to the classroom later this month had opted to indefinitely continue with all-remote learning. 

The school district’s reversal comes as Philly reported an additional 879 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the citywide total up to 49,775. For the past two weeks, the city has averaged 515 new COVID-19 cases per day — numbers that Philly had not yet seen during the ongoing public health crisis.

"There is no question that we are in a dangerous period in the coronavirus epidemic," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said. "We all need to step up our safety precautions now."

There have been 1,901 deaths due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Philadelphia has been identified by Pennsylvania health officials as an area currently experiencing substantial community spread of COVID-19. 

Substantial-risk counties have an incidence rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of at least 10%. Philly currently has an incidence rate of 164.7 per 100,000 residents, according to statewide data.

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