Bringing children back to school in the fall in shifts on alternate days was the most favored option in a survey of 34,000 people by the Philadelphia School District about learning options during the pandemic — though parents and teachers both said the model would create serious child-care issues on days when students don’t get face-to-face learning.
The results of the survey, released Wednesday, come as the district plans how to safely reopen in the fall despite the continued presence of COVID-19. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has said that he will announce details on those plans this month.
The survey respondents had concerns about safety precautions, what transportation will look like, provisions for special education students, and whether children will be required to wear masks all day when in school.
Students attending on alternate days and in staggered shifts was the preferred model of parents, teachers, students, community members, and central office workers, but not overwhelmingly: 27% of respondents favor that option, while 22% favor everyday attendance but with staggered arrivals and departures. Eighteen percent of school-based staff said they favored students returning to school on alternating weeks.
Survey respondents also wanted the district to consider the effects on families with children in different schools. And they want to know how they’re going to manage schedules.
“If the students are being rotated when attending school, what are the parents supposed to do on the days the student doesn’t have school?” one respondent wrote. “Not everyone can work from home.”
School staff were also concerned about what the fall will bring for them.
“Teachers with children cannot teach online and help their students at the same time, and a lot of jobs that are reopening do not accommodate half-time schedules or biweekly schedules,” one wrote.
Whether schools can be adequately cleaned is also an open question for many. Before the pandemic, many schools already struggled with having enough soap, running water and sanitizer.
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“My child’s school was barely clean before COVID, and I don’t trust that the school will be properly cleaned and sanitized thoroughly,” one parent wrote. “Even sanitizing at the end of the day will not be sufficient because children are germ carriers, and throughout the day touch everything repeatedly.”
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a group of elected officials has called for the district to agree to cleaning protocols during the pandemic. The union estimates the school system should hire up to 500 additional cleaners and upgrade its cleaning equipment and practices, but the district has said it believes it employs enough cleaners now.