As the district is looking at the end of the third quarter this month, there are few days left in the school year. Combine that with the hybrid schedule that only allows students to enter two days a week and the numerous upcoming holidays, some of the students returning to the classroom this week will only be in the building for around 25 days this school year. You read that right: After all of this agony, terrible planning, and lack of communication, each Philadelphian student will be in the building for about 25 total days between now and June.
The School District of Philadelphia is playing a dangerous game with its staff and students. After much painful back and forth that has lasted a full calendar year, the School District of Philadelphia and the teachers’ union agreed to open 53 of its 214 school buildings starting last Wednesday. Students arrived Monday on a hybrid schedule. This has come with the understanding that those 53 buildings are “cleared” with proper ventilation. No one should be entering rooms with a ventilation score of “0.” The district has ditched its plan to install window fans, and has instead invested in fixing ventilation and air purifiers. However, the ventilation scores and actual cleanliness of buildings have been questioned by some educators, many of whom have lost trust in the district over the last year.
While some parents will surely be happy to send their kids back into the classroom for even this small amount of time, this reopening plan does little to help already struggling families get to work or help with childcare. It also does little to help students. As a special-education teacher in North Philadelphia, a district employee, and a union member, I know that sitting in a dirty building, masked, social-distanced, and still on the computer for 25 days is not in the best interest of students.
Allow me to elaborate on what hybrid learning really looks like in-person. Reopening buildings does not mean school is operating like we all fondly remember. It means that students have to carry their Chromebooks back and forth to school on their two in-person days a week.
You thought they were actually going to be engaging with in-person learning? Absolutely not. As teachers, we’ll be working double-duty, trying to teach in person to a small group of students but also maintaining virtual learning for the few students whose families chose to send them back to the classroom. There are no additional staff members or teachers to support this. In-person students are coming to buildings to sit with their computers for two days a week, except now they are in a dirty building, masked, and at risk, instead of at home and safe. The whole concept is a day-care dystopia.
The biggest indicator that this plan is flawed? According to reports at the end of January, less than 40% of eligible students district-wide signed up to come into the building on a hybrid model. When I talk with the families that I am honored to serve, they tell me that their child has asthma or other preexisting conditions, their family members have preexisting conditions, that they do not trust the ventilation plan, or a combination of those factors. Many families also told me that they do not want to put school staff at risk, either. At my schools, less than 20 students, pre-K through second grade, signed up for hybrid learning. This means 10 or less students would show up each day. None of the students in my class signed up for hybrid learning, and the same goes with many of my colleagues, so we will be working in buildings we fear are unsafe for no reason.
Why am I being forced into an unsafe building to teach virtually in an empty classroom? Why are students coming to a building to sit with a laptop for 25 days? Why are we pretending that this is in children’s best interest?
Nicole Wyglendowski proudly teaches special education for the School District of Philadelphia in North Philadelphia.