Another Philadelphia school temporarily shut due to COVID cases

A child’s pink backpack hangs off a coat rack.
In two weeks, Philadelphia has seen four of its schools shut down due to COVID outbreak. (Di’Amond Moore / Detroit Free Press)

The Philadelphia school district sent a letter Wednesday to parents of students at Richmond Elementary School in Port Richmond informing them that it is temporarily shutting the school down due to COVID cases.

In the two weeks since schools opened, Richmond is the second district school and the fourth school in the city to shut down over an outbreak. Emlen Elementary and Pan American Charter School in Fairhill closed Monday. Lindley Academy, a charter school in Logan, closed last week.

“Due to multiple positive cases of COVID-19 in our school, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has determined that our school building will temporarily close from Sept. 15, 2021 to Sept. 25, 2021 to help stem the spread of the virus. Students and staff may not return to our school building during this time,” the letter said.

Richmond parent Aileen Callaghan told Chalkbeat Wednesday that her son doesn’t have COVID, but she wants to see a change in COVID safety protocols, including more frequent COVID testing in schools. The district is testing only symptomatic students this year, a change from last year’s testing plan.

“It’s really hard that there were only six in-person days of instruction and we had six COVID cases,” she said. “We need to demand for every child to get tested in the schools and prepare for teachers to get tested on both Wednesdays and Fridays, the lives of our children and elders are at risk right now.”

The district opened its schools to some 120,000 students on Aug. 31 after more than a year of disrupted schooling during the pandemic. District officials have said it’s important for students to return for in-person learning, though Philadelphia is one of the few large urban districts to have a virtual option available to families.

The district is advising that if a child has shared a classroom with any student or staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19 they will be contacted directly by the city’s health department or the school district with next steps, including whether the child needs to be quarantined.

“If your child did not share a classroom with a student or staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 that means your child does not need to quarantine while at home,” the district advised in its letter Wednesday.

The schools guidance from the city health department requires schools to be closed if there are six or more cases within 14 days or “multiple COVID-19 clusters across grades.” A grade is required to quarantine if there are three or more cases in one grade, not concentrated in one classroom.

The city health department is currently not recommending that all students get tested regularly, except athletes and those participating in arts activities, such as band or singing. The district already is doing that.

Richmond parents are organizing an event from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Cohocksink Recreation Center, 2901 Cedar St., to discuss plans for a safe return to school.

Dana Carter, policy advisor for the Racial Justice Organizing Committee, said the district needs to improve its parent and school notification protocols.

“Parents can better prepare for school closures if given the notification of COVID-19 positive cases in schools in a timely manner,” she said.

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