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October 27, 2023

A SEPTA strike may force Philly schools to go virtual – but the district prefers to avoid that scenario

A work stoppage next week would impact 55,000 students. With the possibility looming, Superintendent Tony Watlington broadly outlined the contingency plan

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SEPTA Strike Philly Schools Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

If SEPTA workers strike next week, the School District of Philadelphia says it will relax attendance requirements and possibly shifts schools to virtual learning.

If SEPTA workers strike next week, the School District of Philadelphia would relax attendance requirements for its students and potentially shift instruction to virtual learning. 

About 55,000 students rely on SEPTA to travel to and from school each week. Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. said the district will be unable to provide transportation to all of them if Transit Workers Union Local 234 goes on strike Wednesday after its contract expires. 

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A strike would shut down the Broad Street and Market-Frankford subway lines, and all city bus and trolley routes. 

In that case, students who arrive late or miss school due to SEPTA-related transportation issues will be excused with notes from their parents, Watlington said. Employees who rely on public transportation may be temporarily reassigned to other schools. Extended overtime and relaxed start and end times also are being considered as possible solutions to mitigate staffing shortages. 

Watlington said he prefers to maintain in-person learning, but he said some – or all – schools may switch to hybrid or completely virtual instruction due to staffing difficulties and other challenges caused by a strike.

The district will continue providing grab-and-go meals and technology services amid a possible strike, he said. 

Watlington said he will provide another update on Tuesday. 

SEPTA has advised riders to prepare for a possible strike by detailing the modes of transit and routes that would be affected. 

Under a strike, the Norristown High-Speed Line and Regional Rail trains would still operate. So would suburban buses and trolleys, but those that include stops in Philadelphia would have alterations. Regional Rail trains are expected to keep their normal schedules. 

The most recent SEPTA workers strike shut down buses, trolleys and subways for six days in 2016. 

Local 234 members voted to authorize a strike earlier this month. Workers want pay increases that account for inflation, higher wages for newer employees and a safer working environment.