Philadelphia schools will not reopen to teachers Monday, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Wednesday night.
The news came after Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan told Hite he did not want the district’s prekindergarten through second-grade students back in buildings because of a COVID-19 surge. Teachers were due Monday in advance of a Nov. 30 return for up to 32,000 children in those grades.
Teachers will now return Nov. 16, Hite said in an interview. He said the delay was not because of the coronavirus spike but because of logistics — at some schools, large numbers of parents are opting not to send their children back to classrooms and so not all faculty will need to come in. Hite said the district is still processing data around family decisions.
“There will be some schools where there will be very few children and may even remain fully virtual, and others in very different situations,” said Hite. “There’s no reason for us to bring in everybody before we know who needs to come in.”
Hite had wanted to bring teachers back early to ready their rooms and become familiar with the new technology they will need to simultaneously instruct children in school and those learning virtually, but said that ultimately a shorter window will work, too. He said he was mulling pushing back teachers' return when Jordan raised the issue.
The superintendent, who will appear with City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley at a Thursday news conference, said that even as coronavirus cases rise, Farley is still recommending moving forward with bringing children back to school.
Farley, Hite said, told district officials that the sooner students return, the better.
“The longer we wait, the more problematic it could be,” said Hite. “He just thinks it’s better to get particularly our youngest children back. It doesn’t mean that we might not get to a point where he’s asking everyone to stay at home, but he’s not at that place now."
Though he has said safety is paramount, Hite has long stressed the importance of returning children to buildings as soon as possible. A lack of in-person learning options is problematic, he said, for poor and low-income children, whose families often lack the resources to pay for child care and extra academic support.
Jordan, who asked Hite earlier Wednesday to reverse his decision to have teachers come back because of the virus, remains concerned.
“We only have one chance to get this right,” said Jordan. “We’re dealing with life and death with COVID-19.”
The PFT and district, in an October memorandum of understanding, agreed to safety and cleaning standards governing staff and students being in the buildings. If the two sides do not agree, a neutral third party must mediate the dispute.
Both Jordan and Hite have repeatedly told teachers and parents that no one will return unless it is safe. The PFT has also raised concerns centering mostly on ventilation in the city’s aging schools, but Jordan said Wednesday that his primary concern now is the virus.
The Philadelphia news came as another large urban school system reversed course on plans to welcome some students back to school Monday.
Teachers in the Washington D.C. school system called out sick en masse, leading to the cancellation of virtual classes; the schools chief there has said most students won’t return to classes at all in the 2020-21 school year.