Philly schools to welcome more students back to classrooms in late April

Physically distanced, and with protective partitions, students work on an art project during class

In this March 2, 2021, file photo, physically distanced, and with protective partitions, students work on an art project during class at the Sinaloa Middle School in Novato, Calif. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Updated: 2:25 p.m.

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Philadelphia public school students in grades 3-5 and middle school students with complex needs will be eligible to return to physical classrooms in late April, the school district announced Thursday.

Families with students in these eligibility groups will have the option of sending their children to school in-person twice a week — an option already available to students in pre-K through second grade.

“We look forward to welcoming more students back to school for in-person learning during this next phase and meeting the needs of more families who want this learning option for their child,” said Superintendent William Hite in a statement.

Between April 6 and April 13, qualifying families can select the in-person option for their children or choose to remain fully virtual. Students choosing the in-person option would return to buildings the week of Monday, April 26.

The first phase of the district’s reopening plan included about 9,000 children, officials said — about a third of all students eligible for return. The district also recently created a second opt-in window for pre-K through second-grade families who did not select in-person learning in a November survey. Officials haven’t yet said how many took advantage of the latest opportunity.

The school district enrolls about 30,000 students in grades 3-5.

The district’s reopening approach prioritizes younger students, officials say, because research suggests they’re less likely to transmit COVID-19 and because administrators believe younger students have lost the most academically while trying to learn online.

The district says it’s regularly testing staff and students who’ve already returned to buildings — but officials have released almost no data on the prevalence of positive tests or announced whether there have been instances of in-school transmission.

One school has already shuttered temporarily because of positive cases recorded.

Staff who support students in grades 3-5 and middle school students with complex needs will be asked to report back to their school buildings on April 12, the district announced.

All school district staff have already been offered a COVID-19 vaccine through a program administered by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, officials said. All first doses were completed by mid-March, according to officials — which means all teachers who signed up for the program will have received two doses by early April.

With the exception of Gilbert Spruance Elementary in Northeast Philly, the district and teachers union have agreed that all schools serving pre-K through second-grade students are safe for occupancy.

In order to bring back all students in the second phase of the reopening process, the district and union would need to reach an agreement on 12 more buildings.

Students who return on April 26 will have about seven weeks of in-person classes before the school year ends.

There’s still no word on whether the majority of Philadelphia’s middle school students or any of its high school students will have face-to-face lessons this school year.

District officials insist, however, that they’d like those students to return to buildings before the semester ends.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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