PHILADELPHIA - A limited number of young Philadelphia students returned to classrooms at 53 of the city's public schools on Monday as they finally make the switch to hybrid learning.
Monday marked the first time School District of Philadelphia students have been in a classroom since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly a year ago.
53 schools reopened to Pre-K to 2nd-grade students whose families had opted into hybrid learning last fall. Teachers in those schools returned to their classrooms last Wednesday.
School district officials say about 9,000 Pre-K to 2nd-grade students opted into hybrid learning last fall.
Monday's reopening comes after two previous attempts to get students back into the classroom over the last two weeks that were delayed over safety concerns and ongoing third-party mediation between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).
In recent weeks PFT officials have argued that school buildings were not properly fit for the safety of students and staff. They had previously pointed to the use of window fans to address airflow concerns in schools with insufficient HVAC systems as an area of contention.
Last week, city officials revealed a reopening process developed by the mediator that both sides were able to agree on.
That process included reviewing whether or not school buildings met safety guidelines in batches. Monday's 53 schools were previously approved to resume in-person instruction for the district's hybrid learning model.
Each Monday, the city will announce a new batch of schools that will be reopened and teachers will return to those buildings that Wednesday. Students will return the following Monday.
District officials hope to have return dates announced for all of the Pre-K to 2nd-grade students who opted into hybrid learning by March 22.
"Our goal, a goal that we share with the PFT, is to have all of these children and all of these schools cleared by March 22 so that we can focus on this group of young people, and then begin to think about who comes in next," Superintendent Dr. William Hite said Monday morning. "Are there other grades at the elementary level, are there high school students, are there middle school students? Then we want to make sure we have all of the protocols right, and so that's why we're starting with this small group before we expand out to a lot more children."
During an interview on Good Day Philadelphia Monday morning, Dr. William Hite revealed that district officials were planning to explore options for additional instruction that would run into the summer to make up for some of the lost learning time.
"We are also planning to extend this school year into the summer so that we can capture some of that learning loss that has occurred as well," Dr. Hite said Monday.
When asked how far into the summer schooling could extend, Hite said it could be 'significant.'
"We're going to add another grading period, and that will be for children who need help and who have fallen the most," Hite said. "Individuals will still have an opportunity to choose whether or not they do that."
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