As a handful of Jersey schools go virtual, most in Philly area will bring back students in person
A handful of school districts in the Philadelphia collar counties considered pausing in-person instruction amid spiking coronavirus cases, but ultimately decided to bring back students in-person.
Most students in the Philadelphia region will return to school in person next week after a handful of districts had considered a shift to remote learning amid a troubling surge of coronavirus cases.
Several districts in New Jersey — including Camden City School District and Pennsauken Public Schools — told parents earlier this week that students would begin the January term learning virtually due to a wave of new infections, partly driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Some districts in the Philadelphia suburbs warned parents they were also considering a move to online learning but ultimately decided to bring back students. More than a dozen district leaders in Montgomery County met with county health officials Thursday during a regularly scheduled meeting to review infection data and either reassured parents that students will return in person or hadn’t changed course as of Friday.
Cheltenham School District Superintendent Brian W. Scriven told families in a letter Thursday that after considering a move to virtual, the district decided students would return to school buildings Monday. He also extended a mask mandate through the end of the school year.
The winter surge of coronavirus cases has presented a new challenge for school districts that are largely left to decide for themselves how to mitigate the spread of the virus and whether to pause in-person instruction when infection rates spike. The decisions are also made amid the backdrop of nearly two years of the nationwide controversy over virtual learning and school reopening policies.
In messages to parents, some districts noted that case numbers in their areas have skyrocketed and outlined contingency plans. Wallingford-Swarthmore School District Superintendent Wagner Marseille wrote to parents Thursday that students would return in person but noted: “Last week our positive numbers grew exponentially and I anticipate we will continue to see those numbers rise during the first two weeks of our return in the new year.”
Chester-Upland School District Superintendent Craig L. Parkinson pleaded with parents to get eligible students vaccinated against COVID-19. He wrote to families that while students would return next week in person, all will be asked to take home their electronic devices each night in case the district elects to pause in-person learning for a week or two.
“We have a greater chance to avoid this,” he said, “with more students being vaccinated.”
The decisions to bring students back in person is in line with plans laid out this week by other large school systems.
Both the School District of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia intend to educate students in person and have mask mandates in place. Major systems in other cities made similar announcements, including New York City Public Schools, which earlier this week said it would bring back students and dramatically ramp up its testing protocol to avoid quarantining entire classrooms after a positive test.
While most schools have access to some rapid antigen tests, the supply is not unlimited and districts are tailoring their testing plans accordingly. Most do not have the supply to test all staff and students regularly.
In Chester County, Tredyffrin/ Easttown School District Superintendent Richard Gusick noted the shortage in his letter to families, writing schools would limit testing to symptomatic individuals, their close in-school contacts, and those who need to test negative to end a quarantine and return to school or work.
He said a mask mandate would remain in place, and school officials would continue to work with health authorities as the district reviews its safety plans.