Confronted by protests, pandemic Philly schools mull delaying start of 2020-21 school year

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — School District of Philadelphia administrators are considering pushing back the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The first day of school is currently scheduled for Aug. 31, but Superintendent William Hite said Thursday during his weekly press briefing that the date could change “so staff are trained on new protocols.”

Schools have been closed since the coronavirus outbreak began in Philadelphia in the middle of March. Over the last few months, “teachers and families have experienced loss,” Hite said.

Massive protests against racial injustice also have overtaken the city for weeks.

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“We have to look at what training will be done to address the social and emotional aspects of all the things that individuals have been dealing with,” Hite said.

Administrators are talking about anti-racism efforts, equity, cleaning between classes and overall sanitation as they make a decision about when to start the new school year.

Changes to school security

When the new academic year begins, students and staff will notice changes in how school security operates, chief of school safety Kevin Bethel said.

“We’re going to go with softer uniforms, so we’re less threatening to the younger students,” Bethel said. “We’re doing trauma training because we realize the challenges kids may have from the coronavirus pandemic and then coming back to school.”

The more than 350 school security personnel will continue to carry handcuffs.

Administrators will also install new signs before the metal detectors in school entrances.

“Metal detectors, especially in airports, have signage before the detectors space so we wanted to implement that as well,” Bethel said. “We also talked about having empty buckets so the students can discard what they need to before walking through the metal detectors.”

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Bethel’s office recently volunteered to be a part of a Black male mentoring group, he said he’s hoping to expand that into the schools.

“About 15 to 20 of our officers are mentoring students in a few schools,” Bethel said. “We’re looking to expand that and partner with the athletics department.”

Hite said district administrators are focused on making sure they create a culture where “every person in our building feels safe and respected.”

Planning for the upcoming school year

Approximately 15,000 parents and community members, more than 7,000 students, and nearly 14,000 school base and central office staff have replied to the School District of Philadelphia survey seeking input about digital learning and what to do for the fall.

The district has launched a new feedback form on its website and this information will complement the survey results.

“All of those responses will be shared with our training teams for consideration as we finalize plans for the upcoming school year,” Hite said.

District officials hope to have a more final plan for reopening schools in mid-July.

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