School District of Philadelphia unveils phased plan for switch to hybrid learning

The School District of Philadelphia has announced plans for a move to hybrid learning, beginning next month.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. was joined by other district officials in rolling out the four-phase plan on Wednesday morning. 

Officials spoke to several components of the plan while also laying out the health and safety guidelines the district has developed. 

The shift to hybrid learning should begin November 30 with students in Pre-K through second grade. Officials say they will monitor their transition before setting a date for other grades. 

Phase two would bring students with complex needs in grades 3-12 sometime in January. Phase three would see ninth-grade and CTE students switch to hybrid sometime in February. 

The timeframe for remaining students to shift to hybrid models in phase four has yet to be determined. 

During Wednesday's press conference, Hite explained why the student groups that would be the first to switch to hybrid learning were prioritized. Officials say young and complex needs students have faced disproportionate challenges in receiving virtual instruction, and they may benefit most from in-person instruction. 

Dr. Hite also cited drops in enrollment, especially among kindergarten-age students, as one of the reasons that particular age group would be among the first to return. 

"We're making an assumption that by coming back to some form of in-person, individuals will return to schools and that children will have that experience," Dr. Hite said. 

Drop out rates were also mentioned when it came to the decision to have ninth-grade students switch to hybrid learning. District officials cited research in claiming that ninth grade is when students are most vulnerable to dropping out of high school. 

"We want to, again, ensure that our ninth-grade students are actively engaged in their instructional program, and are attached to the adults that support them," said Malika Savoy-Brooks, the district's Chief of Academic Support.

The district's hybrid model would include a split week, with one group of students learning in-person Monday and Tuesday, while another learns remotely. Those groups would then switch roles on Thursday and Friday, with students who learned virtually earlier in the week returning to school.

All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays. 

During each phase, families will be informed about each of the options and will be able to choose between hybrid learning or all virtual learning. 

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan on Wednesday afternoon said his union is working with the district to develop a strategy to get students back into the classroom, but cast doubt on the union's proposal.

"We issued our recommendations in July and have been negotiating with the District regarding the health and safety protocol since then," Jordan said. "We have yet to see any evidence that schools will be ready to open in any capacity on the proposed dates, but we also recognize that the goal is, of course, for students to return to in-person learning. Virtual learning is far from ideal for any learner or educator. But lives are at stake."

Jordan called a phased reopening "absolutely appropriate" due to many schools inability to safely handle large groups due to "years of deferred maintenance, ventilation issues, and other hazards."

The union is asking for a recalculation of occupancy standards based on social distancing. Jordan pointed to overcrowding at schools such as Lincoln High School, Northeast High School, and Hopkinson Elementary School where "special consideration" will need to be made.

"Make no mistake: there can be no return to in-person learning without strict adherence to health and safety protocol," Jordan said. "With PreK - 2nd grade staff scheduled to return on November 9th, these requirements will need to be met before then. The lives of the students, educators, and staff of the District must, and will, take priority."

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