Center City charter school to close during NFL draft

 Russel Byers Charter School. (Google Maps)

Russel Byers Charter School. (Google Maps)

As NFL fans descend on Philadelphia for the April draft, one charter school has decided to punt on nearly a week of school.

The Russell Byers Charter School — a short jaunt from NFL draft central on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — has canceled classes April 25 through April 28. As part of its contingency plan, Russell Byers plans to extend its school year by two days and convert two other planned days off into instructional days. The school will also have to rejigger its state testing schedule to accomodate the change.

School administrators said nearby road closures prevented them from offering bus service and would have made it hard for parents to pick up and drop off students.

“Our decision to close was a very difficult one to make on such short notice, particularly given the strain it puts on our families’ time and resources,” said head of school Jesse Bean in an e-mail. “We ultimately have an obligation to student safety and access, and, in this case, the city’s road closures simply preclude a viable transportation workaround.”

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Neither the School District of Philadelphia nor the Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to close any schools during the NFL draft events set for April 27 to 29. Friends Select, a small, Quaker private school farther east on the Parkway, also intends to hold classes.

About 150,000 visitors are expected to attend the draft, and the city has already started phasing in a series of road closures and modifications. The most severe restrictions will begin April 25 and include a total shut down of Benjamin Franklin Parkway between the northwest corner of Logan Square and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A spokewoman for Mayor Jim Kenney called Russell Byers’ closure plan “completely unnecessary,” saying the school didn’t inform officials before they decided to close the school.

“We’ve heard from a parent at the school that this decision was made because the school was concerned about bus pick up and drop off. But we have arranged for nearly a hundred buses to drop off and pick up children from the Franklin Institute during the Thursday and Friday of the draft, so we certainly could have done the same for a school,” wrote Lauren Hitt in an e-mail. “We’ve reached out to the school several times since we heard this from a parent late last week to let them know closing is unnecessary, but we have yet to hear back.”

Bean, the head of school, said he did contact the streets and police departments, as well as NFL event organizers, and “no one had any contingencies they could offer me.”

“We felt like we were on our own on this one,” said Bean.

The unexpected closure of the PreK-6 school has irritated some parents, who say the four-day vacation will disrupt work plans.

“For a lot of people, that’s gonna be money out of pocket,” said Leslye Rowland, parent to a pre-K student at Russell Byers.

A little over 40 percent of the school’s students live in poverty.

Rowland said flexible work schedules will allow her and her husband to accommodate the late change, but others aren’t so lucky. Rowland and other parents want the NFL to acknowledge the inconvenience caused by the draft extravaganza — and perhaps show Russell Byers some love in return.

“I’ve just been tweeting the NFL trying to get them to give a donation to the school or something along those lines,” said Rowland.

An NFL spokesman did not comment on that request and referred all questions to the city.

This is first time Philadelphia has hosted the NFL draft in more than 60 years. City officials have billed the event as a showcase for the city and a potential economic driver.

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