Philly Schools Postpone Return to Hybrid Learning

Superintendent William Hite said the return to in-person learning is on hold.

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The School District of Philadelphia is delaying plans to return students to some in-person learning, saying public health concerns necessitate fully virtual school for awhile longer.

Chief of Schools Evelyn Nunez told school leaders of the plan in a letter obtained by NBC10 and Telemundo 62.

The district had planned a shift back into the classroom in November if conditions allowed for it. Under the plan, the youngest students whose parents opted in would go back first. But seeing the latest public health updates from the city, the district put that plan on hold.

"It continues to be our goal to transition to hybrid learning; but we remain committed to doing so only when guidance says it is safe to do so," Nunez wrote.

Coronavirus cases are spiking in the city and across Pennsylvania, according to health officials. Leaders have advised canceling holiday gatherings and working remotely as much as possible.

“There is a concern that those numbers will only rise in the coming weeks as people gather for holidays, the weather gets colder and the air gets drier,” Superintendent William Hite said in a city news briefing Tuesday.

“Our plan to begin transitioning to a hybrid learning model on Nov. 30 is on hold, and all students will continue to engage in digital learning until further notice," Hite said. "Transitioning to hybrid learning, and having students engage in face-to-face instruction with teachers is our goal, but our top priority is the health and well being of our students and our staff.”

Despite the concerns, there are no immediate plans to halt in-person education that is already underway at parochial and charter schools in the city. There are few cases where evidence shows the virus spread within a school open for in-person learning.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said 95 parochial and charter schools have some form of in-person learning in place, and several have had cases among students or staff. But in most of those cases, the virus appeared to be contracted within a teacher's or student's household or somewhere else outside of school, Farley said.

The city identified in-school spread in just 3 of those 95 schools, Farley said.

Though no new restrictions are being imposed on those schools, "that may change as the case rates continue to rise," Farley said.

The union representing Philly's teachers commended the decision to stay virtual, saying it would save lives.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the union would need to see improved ventilation in district facilities, and a lower rate of community spread of the virus, before returning to the classroom would be safe.

"Consider the cautionary and devastating tale from Arizona, where teachers were infected and one lost their life, while working in a school building without students. Every single precaution was taken, but it was not safe," Jordan said. "And in several School District of Philadelphia buildings, we know of cases spread by very few adults volunteering or assigned to be in buildings for supply distribution."

Aid programs continuing

If you need an internet connection for your child's virtual learning in Philly schools, PHLConnectED is still available and can provide broadband access or a wireless hotspot. You can call 211 to hear more about the program.

The district will continue distributing 10 meals a week to eligible students as virtual learning continues, Hite said.

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