Reopening date: Pre-K to second grade students can return to Philly schools Nov. 30

Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite speaks into a microphone.

The School District of Philadelphia plans to reopen its school buildings for hybrid learning for pre-kindergarten through second grade on Nov. 30, according to a letter sent to staff from Superintendent William Hite.

The letter said all staff associated with pre-kindergarten to second grade will return on Nov. 9 “to allow adequate time for classroom set up and learning the technology.”

Students in grades third to 12th “with complex needs” will phase in starting in early January, with ninth graders and students in career and technical education, or CTE, returning later that month.

Hite is expected to discuss details of the plan for the district’s transition to hybrid learning on Wednesday. The letter emphasizes that plans could change depending on the prevalence of the coronavirus in Philadelphia and recommendations from health officials.

It also indicated that parents can still choose remote learning and said the “goal” is for those students to learn from their regular classroom teachers “as much as possible.” The district has invested $6 million in new technology to make this happen, according to the letter.

“In-person learning opportunities will better meet the increasing needs of our students and families — and it’s the right thing to do,” Hite’s letter says. “But resuming in-person learning safely will challenge all of us in new ways. We will need to self-screen daily, wear masks, and follow health and safety protocols that will help protect everyone’s well being. And, as staffing levels, school capacity constraints and rates of COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia evolve, so too will our plans, requiring that we remain flexible. At any time, the Health Department may require us to halt our plans OR temporarily close a classroom, school or the entire District to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.” 

Students in pre-kindergarten to second grade will be divided into two cohorts, one attending Monday and Tuesday, and the other on Thursday and Friday, with virtual instruction on Wednesday, according to the letter.

District officials said last week they were committed to reopening schools in November after the first marking period. They had previously announced a tentative reopening date of Nov. 17.

Hite is expected to speak on various components of the plan, including health and safety guidelines developed in partnership with local and national public health experts, cleaning protocols, and procedures and scheduling for students and staff.

One area of concern is the condition of ventilation in the buildings. At last week’s board of education committee meeting, chief of staff Alicia Prince said that 49 buildings had been “checked” for their ventilation capacity and another 175 were “In progress.”

City officials said last week that confirmed cases of coronavirus have gone up in Philadelphia, but they said most of the transmission hasn’t been in schools. Although district schools haven’t been open, some Catholic schools and charter schools reopened this fall. The city’s student access centers, which opened last month and aren’t run by the school district, have reported just one case and a temporary closure at Simons Recreation Center in West Oak Lane. The centers provide child care for students who need a safe place to do remote learning.

Since August, there have been about 295 cases of coronavirus involving children ages birth to 9 and about 855 cases involving ages 10 to 19, according to the city. That’s less than 3% of the total for Philadelphia. The city has seen nearly 38,000 cases since the start of the pandemic.

District officials announced in late July that the school year would have an all-virtual start. At the time Hite said Nov. 17 was just a target for a “phased in” return to in-person learning.

Other details about the reopening weren’t available Tuesday, but a WHYY reporter tweeted that the district will first reopen school to students from pre-kindergarten to second grade.

Hite is expected to be joined at Wednesday’s announcement by chief of schools Evelyn Nunez and chief of academic support Malika Savoy-Brooks.

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