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January 27, 2021

Philly schools to resume some in-classroom learning in February

Students in pre-K through second grade would be in buildings two days a week; the PFT wants teachers vaccinated before that begins

Education Coronavirus
philadelphia schools reopening Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Philly students will be required to follow strict health and safety protocols when they return to the classroom for in-person learning, including face masks being worn at all times.

For the first time in almost a year, some younger Philly public school students will return to classrooms for in-person instruction.

A multi-phase resumption of in-person learning will begin on Feb. 22 with pre-K through second grade students, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said Wednesday. Staff will begin returning to school buildings on Feb. 8 to prepare for the arrival of students.

"As we begin transitioning to in-person learning, we do so with the confidence of knowing that we’ve been preparing since spring 2020," Hite said. "In-person learning can phase in safely if we all do our part, remain patient and flexible, and plan ahead."

Students who opt into the district's hybrid schedule will attend in-person classes two days per week and participate in online-only instruction the remaining three days, according to the district's plan.

In October, parents of pre-K through second grade students were asked to chose whether they wanted to participate in the hybrid plan, as part of an earlier plan to send younger children back to school. Those who wanted to do so will return to classrooms on Feb. 22 – that is a group of more than  9,000 students, the district said.

Families of pre-K through second grade students who decided to continue all-remote learning during the October selection process will have the opportunities to opt into the hybrid learning model at a later date. 

Students in grades 3 through 12 with complex learning needs will be prioritized to return to classrooms next, but a specific return date for these students, has not been set. Nor has the school district revealed the timeline for the return of the rests of its students.

A number of health and safety protocols will need to be followed when students are back in classes.

All students and staff will need to be pre-screened for coronavirus symptoms before coming to school. Some limited COVID-19 testing will be performed at school buildings. Isolation rooms will be established for students and staff who exhibit coronavirus symptoms during the school day.

Face masks will need to be worn at all times. At least 6 feet of social distancing must be practiced. Plexiglass partitions and touch-free hand sanitizer stations have been installed in school buildings. 

Classrooms will need to comply with capacity limits. School buildings will undergo enhanced disinfection and cleaning. Signs will be posted in school buildings reminding students and staff to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols.

Airflow assessments have been completed in all schools, and work to repair of enhancement to ventilation systems are underway. Any room that does not meet ventilation standards will not be used for in-person instruction, the school district said.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers questioned safety of the school district's plan, in a statement posted to social media on Wednesday. The teachers union said the school district has not met the ventilation standards it has requested and it wants teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before schools reopen.

"Our members desperately want to teach their students face to face," the union said. "But they will continue to work as hard as possible to provide for their students in a remote environment."

PFT shares the District’s desire to return to school buildings—but it must be safe for students and staff. We know that...

Posted by Philadelphia Federation of Teachers on Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Philadelphia is offering shots to people in Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination plan, which includes teachers. But given the low supply of coronavirus vaccines, teachers still are not expected to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations for several more weeks.

"Teachers are very important because we can help get the schools open if they're vaccinated, but they're not in contact with those sort of vulnerable people like someone who works in a nursing home," Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said Tuesday.

The school district is looking to use its buildings as locations where staff can get the COVID-19 vaccine, depending upon the availability of doses.

School district officials had remained hopeful that a hybrid learning model could be implemented at some point this academic year, but said that they would not do so until it was deemed safe by health and education officials.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Tuesday said he supports students returning to the classroom.

"The lower grades are the less exposed," Kenney said. "They're also the citizens of our city who are losing the most ground by not being in school. The earlier years of the child's education are some of the most important years and these kids are almost a year behind now."

President Joe Biden's administration has also prioritized reopening schools for in-person learning amid the public health crisis.

A study published by the CDC on Tuesday found COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 classroom settings to be relatively low with proper health and safety protocols in place. If mitigation efforts are enforced and riskier activities, such as indoor dining, are limited in a community, the CDC recommends that in-person instruction at schools can take place.

Philadelphia's 120,000 public school students all have been doing remote-only learning since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.

The school district had planned for some in-person learning to resume in November, with pre-K through second grade students returning to the classroom if families were interested. But those plans were put on hold until further notice as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across the city.

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