Philly superintendent predicts — with ‘confidence’ — that public schools will reopen this school year

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite speaks at a city coronavirus briefing. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite predicted “with a great deal of confidence” that some of the city’s 120,000 public school students will return to in-person learning before the school year ends.

Hite made the comments during a weekly press briefing, adding that he does not think the reopening of city schools is contingent on the immunization of school staff.

“I can’t say with certainty what grades will be included, but I can say with a great deal of confidence that there will be some schools that will be serving children,” Hite said.

“This was never contingent on having a vaccine,” he added.

The superintendent did not say when in the coming semester students might start to return.

Hite did say the school district will have “testing in place” that will allow officials to identify potential coronavirus outbreaks before they occur. That testing plan won’t include regular COVID-19 tests for staff or students, Hite said. Instead, the district will use tests to track the virus “where case counts are rising.”

The district has already tried, twice, to offer a hybrid learning option for families that want it. Over the summer, community pushback convinced the district to scrap its plan. When officials tried again in the fall — this time just for students in younger grades — rising case counts prompted a reversal.

Though the district says staff immunizations aren’t a prerequisite to schools reopening, teachers will be among the earlier groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

State and city officials expect school staff who work directly with students to be in the second wave of vaccinations. That second wave will also include food processing workers, some first responders, and transit operators.

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