With an eye toward surging COVID-19 case counts in the region, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that Philadelphia might not be able to bring back its pre-kindergarten- through second-grade students Nov. 30 after all.
The Philadelphia School District is still planning for as many as 32,000 students to return to classes as announced earlier this month, but staff — many of whom are now scheduled to report to school buildings Nov. 9 — and students won’t come back unless it’s safe, Hite said.
The district will “carefully monitor COVID-19 to make sure that conditions support in-person learning,” Hite said at a news conference Thursday.
“We’re preparing for all scenarios, a scenario that will allow for us to bring some children back, a scenario that would allow for all children to remain virtual,” the superintendent said.
There is no date by which the district must make a final decision, Hite said; the fluid public health situation will dictate what happens.
Whether students return “is based on case counts, it’s based on recommendations by medical experts, it’s based on recommendations from the Philadelphia Health Commissioner,” said Hite.
A number of deadlines loom for the district; parents of prekindergarten- through second-grade children must decide by Friday whether they want their kids to opt into the hybrid model, which would have them back in classes two days a week, if conditions permit. And teachers in those grades are expected to return in less than two weeks.
District data show that many rooms in district schools do not have adequate ventilation to safely support any occupancy.
“If the facilities are not ready to support children, we are not going to put adults in those rooms either,” Hite said.
Either a COVID-19 incidence rate of greater than 100 per 100,000 residents or a percent positivity rate of test results greater than 10% over the past seven days would automatically rule out in-person learning, according to a memorandum of understanding signed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the district.
The city now hovers at about a 7% positive coronavirus test rate.
And while public health is paramount, there are other considerations, too, Hite said. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has often said “he also sees the importance of getting our youngest learners back into school,” Hite said. “At the moment, he hasn’t recommended anything other than moving forward with our plan."