School District of Philadelphia announces plan for fall academic year

The Philadelphia School District on Wednesday announced its plan to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Advancing Education Safely plan, announced by Superintendent Dr. William Hite during a virtual press conference, outlined the health and safety guidelines developed in partnership with local and national health experts. The complete plan is available to download here.

“This plan is a roadmap to help us navigate our way through unprecedented circumstances,” Hite said. “We have a fundamental responsibility to educate our students continually throughout the school year, and we are fully committed to doing so safely, thoughtfully and with equity and facts guiding our decision making.”

Starting on Sept. 2, the hybrid plan will combine both virtual and in-person learning. Some students will attend school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while another group of students attends class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All students will work from home on Fridays.

Students with complex learning and pre-K students will attend face-to-face classes from Monday-Thursday with Friday virtual classes. All students will also have the option to opt-in for all-digital learning via Digital Academy. Registration for digital learning is slated to take place at the end of the month.

"This announcement does not end our work, the work is just beginning," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "We will continue to work on ensuring access to wireless to make sure students can participate in remote learning on digital days."


Officials say classrooms will primarily operate on the "cohort model," meaning the same group of students stay with the same teacher inside the same classroom for the duration of the school day. In this scenario, students are discouraged from intermingling with other students to contain the potential spread of the virus.

To ensure social distancing requirements are maintained, schools will be required to post traffic flow signage and decals throughout the building. Layouts for desks, tables and chairs will maintain six feet spacing in both classrooms and other common areas. When feasible, the maximum number of individuals, including students, teachers and staff, allowed in the same classroom is 25. Schools are being asked to prioritize plexiglass barriers for classrooms that have the most students or for classrooms without sufficient space for desks to be 6 feet apart

Meanwhile, teachers will teachers and staff are not permitted from using breakrooms and lunchrooms for gathering. In-person meetings are also discouraged and should continue to take place in a virtual setting whenever possible. 

MORE: Cherry Hill Superintendent announces tentative plan for the fall

Face coverings will be required for both students, teachers and staff when inside all Philadelphia schools.

Students in grades pre-k to 5th grade will also be given face shields and due to the interactions between teachers and younger students who rely on visual and facial cues. The district will provide students with a maximum of two face shields and five masks per week as needed.

Meanwhile, students in 6th - 12th grade will be required to wear a mask. The district will provide masks daily to students, but teachers will not receive daily masks.

Acceptable masks include disposable surgical masks, cloth masks purchased or made from household items, and gaiters. Clothing and household items (like scarfs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels) are not acceptable in original form for use as masks on District grounds.

(Photo by Christian Ender/Getty Images)

Teachers and staff will be required to complete daily self-reporting by completing an online Pre-Entry Screening Form to verify if they are symptom-free and have not had recent exposure to someone with COVID-19. Families of students are required to conduct their own daily screenings, which includes temperature check, monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and recent exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

At the start of the school year, families will be required to sign the COVID-19 School Health & Safety Agreement which describes their commitment to keeping their children home when sick and to seeking appropriate medical care.

Students and staff are not presently being required to get tested for coronavirus unless they are symptomatic. The district says they will not conduct on-site testing, but they encourage concerned students or parents to speak to their healthcare provider or seek out a testing site.

Dr. Thomas Farley said the district's plan will not prevent all cases, but he believes it will minimize infection while allowing for the safe return to the classroom. 

"If it's appropriate we will close schools, or if it's appropriate we will shutdown the entire system again," Farley said. "For now though, we are hopeful that we can open the system safely and our children can start to learn again."

The district's plan comes a day after the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers released a 14-page document outlining criteria that must be met before even considering reopening schools.

Those demands included many of the highlights of the district's ruling, including robust contact tracing, aggressively tracking new data trends, ensuring adequate cleaning and PPE, and having alternatives to in-person learning.


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