Philly schools’ reopening plan: Classes 2 days a week, Sept. 2 return date

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — School District of Philadelphia administrators are planning to bring students and staff back for two days of in-classroom instruction and three days of remote instruction each week.

And administrators want to start the new academic year on Sept. 2 — two days later than the original start date of Aug. 31.

“By pushing the date back to open schools to September 2, it will allow us to provide four additional training for staff and operations for the type of protocols that we will have to utilize in the school,” said Superintendent William Hite during a news conference on Wednesday.

The school district Board of Education must approve the proposed first day.

When students return to school, they will be split into two groups within in each school. One group will have in-person instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other group will have in-person instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Pre-kindergarten students and students with complex needs will have in-person instruction Mondays through Thursdays.

All students will learn virtually on Fridays.

“We’re making every effort to ensure that siblings in the household are on the same schedule,” said Evelyn Nuñez, the district’s chief of schools.

The school district will continue to provide Chromebooks for any student who needs one for remote instruction, Nuñez said.

Before administrators came up with this plan, they sought input from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, edcational and public health experts, students and families through conversations, online surveys and virtual town hall meetings.

“This school year will be a challenge for us, but we will be able to advance education safely if we all understand that we’re in this together,” Hite said.

Digital academy

The school district will offer a digital academy, a fully virtual program, for some students.

Registration for the program will begin at the end of July.

Students who opt into the virtual program must remain in that model throughout the first quarter and will only be able to to leave the program at the start of the new quarter.

District officials plan to release more information about the program — including who may apply and how the district will select participants — next week.

Safety measures

All district employees, students, guardians, and visitors will be required to perform a daily health screen to assess COVID-19 symptoms.

Families will conduct a daily screening of their children at home before their children leave for school.

Teachers and staff will complete a pre-entry screening every day up until three hours before they report to work. The screening must be done electronically and the staff member must show the results on their smartphone before they can enter a school district building.

All district employees, students, guardians and visitors will be required to wear a face mask at all times. The district will provide one complimentary cloth mask for each staff member or staff may choose to wear their own.

Students and teachers in grades pre-K through 5 will receive face shields and masks, but students may choose to wear their own.

Teachers in grades 6-12 will not receive daily masks.

Acceptable masks include disposable surgical masks, cloth masks and gaiters, said district medical officer Barbara Klock.

“Clothing and household items like scarfs, a towel, or bandanas will not be acceptable on district grounds,” Klock said.

District officials said they will make exceptions or revisions to mask-wearing requirements “based on medical conditions, disability impact, or safety factors.”

Social distancing guidelines

Students will stay in the same classroom with the same teacher throughout the school day.

Desks, tables and chairs will be spaced apart to promote social distancing in classrooms and other areas.

District staff will place signs, floor decals and colored tape throughout buildings to show how traffic should flow through buildings and where students and staff should stand in lines.

Administrators also will create a schedule of when different groups may use hallways, restrooms and other facilities to minimize the number of students and staff in common areas at the same time.

Cleaning protocols

All district buildings will be deep cleaned and disinfected in accordance with the best practices from local, state and federal health officials.

“We’re currently doing our summer cleaning, which will include deep cleaning and disinfecting school buildings,” said Alicia Prince, the interim chief of facilities and capital programs for the school district.

“That work is being done by our custodial staff of more than 900 people. That will be followed up with preparatory cleaning, which will take place a week before opening our buildings.”

District staff are replacing air filters, making sure windows open and close, and adding portable fans to improve air circulation throughout school buildings. District staff are also mounting hand sanitizer stations throughout buildings, and making sure that all sinks are working and have clean running water, soap and paper towels.

When schools reopen, administrators said, they will have custodial staff working throughout the day to clean buildings, and areas identified as “high-touch points” will be cleaned every four hours.

Each classroom will have hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

At the end of each day, staff will spray down buildings using an electrostatic backpack sprayer with antiviral disinfectant spray, Prince said.

All schools will be resanitized on Fridays.

Food services

The schools will provide grab-and-go breakfast to all students as they enter school buildings, and students must eat the breakfasts in their classrooms.

For lunch, students will be allowed to eat at their desks in the classrooms or in assigned seats in the cafeteria that are 6 feet apart. Schools will also have designated food stations in hallways.

All students will be required to clean their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after eating.

Schools will not use water fountains. Students will be required to bring their own water bottles and use touchless hydration stations to refill the bottles as needed.

Students who will be learning remotely will receive breakfast and lunch meals for the days they will be learning from home. Students can pick up their meals prior to leaving the school building.

Students who enroll in the digital academy will receive five breakfast and five lunch meals at a location close to their homes.

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.