Ninety-four Philadelphia School District schools that had been closed for in-person classes will reopen next week as staff return from COVID-19 quarantines.
Just eight district schools will have remote instruction next week, down sharply from 102 Friday.
“We are hopeful that Philadelphia will be approaching the end of the omicron surge soon, and we can return to a consistent in-person learning experience for all of our young people,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in an email to staff and families. “Until then, conditions may continue to change quickly.”
All city schools are closed Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The schools that will close Tuesday through Friday are:
Gateway to College, McDaniel, Ombudsman Northwest Accelerated, Northeast High, Northeast EOP, Pennell, Roosevelt, and Stearne.
(Northeast is virtual not because of staff shortages but because the school, the city’s largest with 3,600, hit the 10% COVID-19 positive threshold for closing.)
The announcement signals the district’s confidence that the COVID-19-prompted staffing shortages that forced 40% of the district’s 238 traditional and alternative schools to go virtual earlier this month are easing.
But some parents — and many teachers — remain dubious. Attendance among students and staff was spotty at many schools that held in-person classes this week, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has called for a two-week shift to virtual instruction to calm cases and give the district time to develop a better safety plan.
In a video posted to PFT social media platforms Friday afternoon, Ivey Welshans, a Middle Years Alternative special education teacher, blasted the district’s “haphazard return after winter break.” Welshans said teachers want to return in person, but said schools are currently overtaxed.
“Staff and students are out at an alarming level,” Welshans said. “We lack basic PPE. If the intent of the district was to ensure that students didn’t miss instructional time, we sadly missed the mark.”
City Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said this week that while the omicron surge may have peaked, schools could continue to face a rough patch.
Both the city’s health department and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Policy Lab have called for schools to be open, but Bettigole said staff infected with COVID-19 or quarantining because of exposures may continue to cause individual school closures.
“You can’t run a school if you don’t have staff,” Bettigole said at a news conference Tuesday. “I do think we’re going to be in a difficult place for the next couple weeks.”