Philadelphia schools go remote for students Friday amid pollution from wildfire smoke

A haze hangs over Philadelphia from a wildfire from Canada.
Smoke hangs over Philadelphia. The Philadelphia school district announced that students will learn remotely on Friday, June 9 due to ongoing concerns about air pollution from Canadian wildfires that has covered much of the Northeast. (Joe Lamberti / AFP via Getty Image)

Philadelphia schools will switch to remote learning on Friday “out of an abundance of caution,” district officials announced Thursday evening, due to ongoing concerns about air pollution from Canadian wildfires.

However, the district said all employees — including school-based staff — should report to their “normal work location.”

“The health and well-being of our students and staff is a top priority,” the district said in a statement issued Thursday at 6 p.m.

The district did not require school buildings to close Thursday, but did urge students and staff to stay indoors due to the smoke from the wildfires that has blanketed much of the Northeast this week and closed schools in New York City and Newark.

Remote learning may prove difficult for Philadelphia students, since staff have already collected district-issued Chromebooks in many schools as the end of the school year approaches. 

In addition to remote instruction, scheduled outdoor field trips will be rescheduled or canceled. And several graduations and end-of-year “move up” ceremonies slated for outdoor spaces will be postponed. Those taking place indoors will proceed as scheduled. Principals were contacting parents late Thursday to provide updates. 

The district’s statement said that environmental authorities had listed Philadelphia as “Code Red,” or “extremely unhealthy.” Philadelphia’s Air Quality Index actually improved during the day Thursday, declining to 164 (out of a possible maximum of 500) by Thursday afternoon. But it is still at “unhealthy” levels, city spokesperson Sarah Peterson noted.

Bus service for charter and private school students will be provided, said district spokeswoman Monique Braxton.

Crossing guards serving strictly district school locations do not have to report Friday, Peterson said. Those serving charter and private schools should report, she said. (Crossing guards work for the city.) 

In a statement, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan noted “the unprecedented nature of this issue and the myriad challenges it has presented for staff, students, and families,” especially at the end of the school year when “parents and loved ones [have] an irreplaceable opportunity to see their students shine.” 

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He also said that the union “has ensured that any staff who are unable to report [Friday] will not be penalized for their absence.” 

Students and staff will also not be penalized for absences on Thursday, the district said.

Mayor Jim Kenney and city Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Thursday that non-emergency city personnel would not work outdoors Friday, which impacts services such as trash collection and routine road maintenance. 

The city canceled all outdoor recreation department activities, but said it was keeping open recreation centers, describing them as “a safe indoor alternative during periods of poor air quality.” 

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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