Classroom clash: Debating the reopening of Philadelphia schools

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One hundred and thirty six. 

That’s how many days it’s been since Philadelphia students have been in the classroom.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced back on March 13 that all K-12 schools in the state be closed. At the time, the order was for two weeks, but as we all know, doors remained closed as the coronavirus pandemic devastated the city and nation. 

Today, there have been more than 4 million COVID-19 cases and 146,339 fatalities due to the virus in the United States. Pennsylvania has the 11th highest positive case count in the nation with 111,121 and of those, 29,303 occurred in Philadelphia. 

Closing schools was one of the initial calls to action to help stop the spread. And now, a little over four months after they closed, it’s time to decide when and how to reopen.

The debate surrounding the reopening of Philadelphia schools has been a heated one among educators, parents and the School District of Philadelphia. On July 15, district officials announced a partial reopening plan, which has been met with both praise and uncertainty among faculty and staff throughout city schools. 

According to the initial plan, Philadelphia public schools are slated to reopen in September, with students attending in-person classes two days a week and remote learning the remainder of the time. Parents who want their children to undergo only remote learning are allowed to do so through the city’s “digital academy,” which is completely virtual. 

Safety measures like reduced class sizes, mandatory face coverings, socially-distanced meals and daily disinfecting of all school buildings were also included in the reopening plan, however many are still gravely concerned. 

Granted, officials have said that their plan could very well change and be altered depending on coronavirus cases in Philadelphia. But as the first potential day of school looms closer, the pressure is mounting to make the right decision. Not to mention factoring in the time and resources it will take to ensure schools open safely and procedures are in place not if, but when, a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19. 

I believe in the power of conversation. I think local health experts, as well as parents and educators need to have their voices heard when making this immensely important decision for our city, our schools and our families. 

That’s why Metro wants to hear from you—the residents of Philadelphia, the people who these decisions affect the most. Should students return to school and if so, under what circumstances? What more can be done to ensure their safety? Are you comfortable sending your child to school? Send your questions, concerns and insight to [email protected] with your full name and we’ll print the responses in an upcoming edition of Metro. 

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