Philadelphia will close all public schools for two weeks starting Monday, March 16, due to a lack of teachers as neighboring counties work to combat the novel coronavirus.
The announcement was made Friday by School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite. The decision came a day after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all schools closed in Montgomery County, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak in Pennsylvania. Hite said the move created staffing shortages in the Philadelphia school district.
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“We wanted to do everything to keep schools open, but our inability to staff schools because of the decisions of some of the surrounding counties have made that impossible," Hite said.
The superintendent said about 2,100 of the district's staff members reside in Montgomery County. Those staff members will continue to be paid, he said.
Hite, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and city Managing Director Brian Abernathy all stressed that the closing of Philadelphia schools was not due to an exposure of the coronavirus on any campus.
In fact, they said, they were acting on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when they tried to keep schools open.
"Our kids were safer being in school," Kenney said.
Only about an hour earlier, Abernathy had said classes were still on as he warned of the possible issues that come with closing schools.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat this: if we close our schools, we have a huge problem,” Abernathy said.
Calling them “the lifeblood of our communities,” Abernathy said schools closing could lead to hundreds of thousands of children missing meals and parents possibly missing paychecks if forced to skip work and take care of their children.
“With all due respect to Montgomery County, we’re not Montgomery County. And I will guarantee you that there’s a kid in Norristown that didn’t get fed today, and that should be our concern, especially given the CDC guidance,” Abernathy said.
Hite said the city and district were making arrangements to open recreation centers and other locations where kids could pick up meals. Packets with 10 days' worth of school work would also be made available at those locations and at schools themselves, Hite said.
Following the announcement of School District of Philadelphia closures, the Archdioceses of Philadelphia announced closures of facilities under its jurisdiction in the area, with online classes set to commence in the near future.
"All high schools, parish and regional elementary schools, schools of special education, PREP programs, and early learning centers in the five-county Archdiocese will close through Friday, March 27, 2020," spokesman Kenneth Gavin said in a news release.