After a dramatic rebuke of Philadelphia’s school reopening plan that came after midnight Friday morning, parents, teachers, and students are wondering: What now?
The school board was scheduled to vote Thursday on Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s plan, which would have returned most students to buildings two days a week and offered a 100% remote option for families that wanted it. But principals, teachers, and parents spent six hours voicing skepticism about the district’s ability to keep them safe and demanding a fully virtual opening, in a meeting that stretched into the next day.
Hite, who relied on more than 30,000 survey results that came in over the last month, asked the board to delay its decision, giving him time to refine the plan before a vote Thursday on whatever he comes up with.
“I get that people don’t like the model that we actually recommended,” he said at the board meeting.
It was not immediately clear when the superintendent will present the next iteration of the plan, whether it is likely to include any in-person options, or whether the coming changes will affect the 2,000-plus children already signed up for the district’s fully remote “Digital Academy.”
Hite said Friday that he would take to heart the feedback.
“The reopening decisions we must make due to COVID-19 are difficult ones with no easy answers,” he said in a statement. “We must thoughtfully weigh what we know about the pandemic from health experts with our fundamental responsibility to meet the many educational needs of our students while supporting everyone’s safety and well-being.”
One thing is clear: After a tense, emotional eight hours, many of those who spoke at the board meeting feel betrayed by the decision to postpone. A group of teachers and other supporters plan to rally in front of Philadelphia School District headquarters Saturday to demand fully virtual school for all.
Board member Angela McIver, who expressed frustration with the move to delay voting on the plan, said she understood why many felt they could not support any in-person instruction.
“We did not do a good job of delivering clean, healthy schools before the pandemic,” McIver said. Why, she wondered, why people would believe it now?
McIver and Lee Huang did not want to postpone the final vote. Both said they believed the public deserved clear direction and a resolution after six hours of testimony that overwhelmingly rejected the reopening blueprint.
The board meeting yielded “a resounding messages from lots of different places, and we need to take that seriously,” Huang, the parent of three children in the district, said Friday.
But he’s also considering many competing needs, Huang said: At some point, the district needs to move forward with adequate safety measures in place, knowing “what you wreak on our students when you go fully remote — particularly our youngest and most vulnerable and under-resourced students.”
The voices of those who testified Thursday night were passionate, but they don’t represent all viewpoints, including the concerns of some essential workers and parents of vulnerable children, some parents said Friday.
David Knoblock wants his children physically in school at Masterman, a Center City magnet.
When school shifted online because of the coronavirus, “kids had almost nothing to do all day, and I have very little confidence that it will be much different in September,” he said. “There has to be an option for kids to go to school.”
If there’s no in-person option, the district could begin losing middle-class families like Knoblock’s, who have the ability to choose options other than public school. He and his wife have already talked about pulling their children if virtual instruction is the only district choice they have.