PHILADELPHIA - The School District of Philadelphia is planning to welcome all students back to class for five days of in-person learning for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Dr. William Hite, joined by Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers leader Jerry Jordan, made the announcement during a Wednesday morning press conference at Spring Garden School in North Philadelphia.
Hite said the district's plan will have students return to classrooms for full in-person instruction on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
According to Hite, the current plan hinges on the CDC and Philadelphia Department of Public Health relaxing social distancing guidelines in school. Hite said updated guidance is expected in the near future.
"Welcoming students back to the classroom and surrounding them with caring educators is the best opportunity to help them heal and recover from the many devastating impacts of COVID-19," Hite said.
Many factors went into the decision to plan for a full reopening of Philadelphia-area schools, including declining caseloads and access to vaccines for people 12 and up. Hite said the rate of transmission within the district has remained "well below" 1% as some students returned to class in a hybrid setting.
"Together we made it through and in the fall district students will finally be able to go to school five days a week," Mayor Kenney said. "The full reopening of schools is a day we've been waiting for."
The joint decision to return to schools in the Fall comes months after the union challenged the district's reopening plan to send students and staff back to classrooms in a hybrid model. The PFT claimed that safety measures like ventilation were not sufficient to ensuring the safety of students and staff.
The planned return to school in early-March was delayed while a third-party arbitrator reviewed the district's COVID-19 policies and adjustments. The arbitrator eventually brought both sides together on a plan that reviewed school buildings preparedness for students and staff in batches.
In early March, the city allowed PreK-2nd grade students who elected the hybrid learning model to return into school buildings for two days of in-person instruction. Two weeks later, a limited number of students in grades 3-5 were allowed to return to school on a similar schedule.
Students in grades 6-9 resumed limited classroom instruction in late April and were the last wave of students welcomed back into school for the 2020 academic year.
Jordan on Wednesday said the union will be "urging the district to work on many of the needed repairs in buildings this summer." He believes the buildings will need to be reassessed during the summer if and when CDC guidelines change.
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