Nearly all Philly elementary schools to open by April 5

REUTERS/Hannah Beier

By April 5, all but one of Philadelphia’s public elementary schools will have opened for in-person learning, officials said Monday.

A total of 22 additional schools will resume face-to-face classes after the School District of Philadelphia’s spring break, which runs from March 29 to April 2.

Gilbert Spruance Elementary School in Oxford Circle is the only building without a firm reopening date. A district spokesperson said the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has asked for “an additional day or two” to review conditions at the school.

The teachers’ union, as part of an internal process established through mediation, has been pouring over thousands of pages of documents to determine the COVID-19 safety of each school, with a particular focus on ventilation.

District officials said the PFT will transition to analyzing middle and high schools, though no timeline has been released for the return of students in grades 3 to 12.

As of Monday, 133 schools have begun offering in-person instruction for pre-K to 2nd grade students whose families enrolled in the hybrid model back in November. The first set of buildings reopened March 8.

Tuesday is the final day for parents who selected an all-virtual curriculum in the fall to opt in to the hybrid system, in which students come into schools twice a week, with the remainder of the days reserved for remote classes.

Families who recently decided to choose the hybrid model will be contacted later this week, and their children will start in-person classes the week of April 5, according to the district.

Parents can pull their children out of the in-person classes at any time and go back to 100% digital learning.

Mayfair Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia became the first public school in the city to suspend face-to-face instruction last week after multiple people connected with the school tested positive for COVID-19. The building will remain closed until April 2 and will be deep-cleaned, officials have said.

After the news, PFT President Jerry Jordan called on the district to create a publicly-accessible dashboard so cases can be tracked at each school.

District leaders have not said how many people were diagnosed with the virus at Mayfair.

New CDC guidance

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday revised its social distancing guidance for schools, recommending, in most cases, that students need only maintain 3 feet of separation instead of 6.

As long as everyone is masked, elementary schools can institute the 3-foot rules, no matter how fast COVID-19 is spreading in the broader community, according to a CDC statement.

The new guidance advises high schools and middle schools to revert to 6 feet of distance if viral transmission is high and students are not kept in one class with the same teacher for the entire day.

For all schools, 6 feet should remain the standard when students are eating and passing in common areas. Teachers should also continue to keep the lengthier distance between themselves and students, the CDC said.

School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Monica Lewis said administrators were pleased with the change, but that the district would “consult with our union partners to see what, if any changes will be made to our existing plans.”

Jordan said the PFT has always followed the science; however, he added that the CDC revisions add “another layer of stress and uncertainty” during “an already confusing and scary time.”

“Any change in those requirements concerns us,” he said in a statement Friday. “However, as science is ever-evolving and information about this virus is ever-evolving, we will continue to adapt and adjust as warranted.”

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