With the impact of the coronavirus lingering and no vaccine in sight, the Philadelphia School District is leaning toward opening schools this fall with a hybrid model that would limit the number of people in a building at any given time and allow students and staff with health concerns to work and learn remotely.
That tentative framework, announced Monday by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., could mean students cycle into schools in shifts in the morning or afternoon, or on alternating days or weeks — with students learning remotely in the times they are not in school buildings.
Hite’s statement said the district is continuing to evaluate its options, and is surveying parents, students and staff about the safest and most effective way to reopen and teach the more than 125,000 students it serves in traditional schools.
The district has not yet discussed possible schedules with its teachers union, said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The union, which surveyed members last month, found that most would support a hybrid reopening with some remote learning taking place — though they also expressed concerns about reopening before a vaccine is available.
The PFT planned to issue a new survey to members Monday.
“The most important part is the implementation of it, and really getting the input from the people in the field in the schools,” Jordan said.
Robin Cooper, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents district principals, said her members also had not been a part of discussions with district leaders about reopening.
“A survey is one barometer. Bringing people together is another one,” Cooper said.
Hite said the district’s surveys will “help inform a final plan that keeps the safety and shared interests of our whole community in mind." The district intends to share a final plan in July, he said.
The update from the state’s largest district is the latest development in the still-unanswered question of what school may look like this fall, as districts try to balance concerns about safety with the need to educate students — many of whom have struggled or disengaged as school has moved online.
While Pennsylvania officials have said that in-person learning can resume July 1, schools are struggling with the logistics of reopening buildings while maintaining social distancing.
In launching its surveys, Philadelphia also outlined how social distancing and other considerations were shaping its approach for the fall. Among its plans: markings on floors and walls to keep people six feet apart; requiring students and employees to wear masks; and “daily entry questionnaires” to assess whether students and staff have symptoms or have possibly been exposed to the coronavirus.
Under the hybrid plan it is considering, the district would look at phasing students back into buildings, and identify different student groups as priorities for in-person learning — including students requiring support for autism and other complex needs, English language learners, and younger students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Parents filling out the district’s survey are asked their preferences on different scheduling options — as well as what safety measures they consider most important, and their comfort level with students returning if different measures are in place.
Whatever approach the district lands on, the specifics may vary by building. Hite has said that what school looks like at one grade level and in one section of the city may not be the same as elsewhere.
Jordan noted that enrollment in district schools varies widely — from schools with fewer than 300 children, to elementaries of more than 1,000 students and high schools topping 3,000.
Recalling class changes at Northeast High, which enrolls more than 3,400 students, “I was impressed with how orderly the kids were in passing,” Jordan said. “But they were walking shoulder to shoulder. … How many shifts are you going to have if you go into a shift model at that school?"