Philly School District Backpedals, Proposes All-Virtual Start to Year

A new plan proposal for the 2020-21 school year includes all-virtual instruction for the first marking period. The Board would need to approve the plan first.

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Days after the School District of Philadelphia delayed its decision on how to resume schooling amid the coronavirus pandemic, administrators have come up with a new plan that will keep all instruction virtual for the first marking period (which ends Nov. 17th).

If the updated plan is OK'd by the Board, Philly schools could move to a hybrid model (a mix of in-person and online) after Nov. 17 if it's safe to do so.

In a virtual meeting last week that began Thursday night and stretched into early Friday morning, Superintendent William Hite tabled a plan to reopen with some in-person classes and asked the Board of Education for time to start over.

In the raucous meeting, teachers and parents voiced concerns about the risk of spreading the virus in the confines of a classroom, and what level of new cases would force schools to close.

“How many deaths of students and our staff will you find acceptable?” Olivia Jones, the assistant principal at John Marshall Elementary School, asked board members.

A release from the district about the updated plan noted the large number of responses, with many in last week's meeting critical of coming back with in-person instruction, and some in favor.

“I’ve actively listened to all of the feedback we have received, and believe we must take the time needed to gain the trust and support of our school community as we pursue a plan that will help our children learn in an environment none of us has ever experienced before,” Hite said in a news release Tuesday.

The Board of Education will consider the updates to the plan in a July 30 meeting.

On the decision to all-digital learning, Hite said: "All of the decisions we are making due to the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult ones with no obvious answers for how to account for the many, and often competing, needs of our students, staff and families."

“This school year will be a challenge for us all, as we learn how to cope with this ‘new normal,’ he added. "And being flexible will be essential for us all.”

Though in-person instruction will not take place, some staff will work in school buildings distributing meals to students in need. Others will perform environmental work on ventilation issues, the news release says.

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