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School District of Philadelphia students could return to in-person classes five days a week by the fall semester, officials announced Wednesday.
A full return to classes, slated for August 31, will be contingent on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, relaxing all social distancing requirements at schools, Superintendent William Hite said.
The change would be the first time students would be learning in person five days a week since March of last year, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the district to go virtual. In addition, the current hybrid learning plan would be phased out for the next school year, Hite said.
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“Welcoming students back to our classrooms and surrounding them with caring educators is the best opportunity to help them heal and recover from the many devastating impacts of COVID-19,” he said.
The superintendent noted that research shows in-person school is the most conducive to learning. However, he said that because a return to in-person classes could be challenging for some, the district will also offer 100% digital classes taught by teachers specializing in the virtual model.
Hite said that he feels confident that all students who wish to do so will be able to return in-person classes five days a week by the fall in part due to low and declining COVID-19 transmission rates in Philadelphia, the growing number of people getting vaccinated and the fact that the rate of infections within the district has remained “well below” 1% during the current hybrid model.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union, said he supports the return-to-school plan both because it will benefit children and because the hybrid model of in-person and digital learning has proven “extremely difficult” for teachers.
He added that the union will continue to urge the district to use this summer to do building maintenance to make schools “as safe as possible for everyone” before the planned fall return.
To help further refine the plan, Hite asked students, staff and families to take a survey about what excites them and what worries them about a full return to in-person classes. The survey will be available through May 28.
“The full reopening of schools is a day we’ve been waiting for. I’m especially happy for our students and for our teachers,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, who was also in attendance during Wednesday’s announcement. “They’ll enjoy the academic and social and emotional benefits of in-person learning, and after a long year of isolation and uncertainty, they’ll get to connect with their friends and with their teachers.”