Jan 4, 2022 - News

81 Philly schools shift to virtual learning due to COVID-19 surge

A Philadelphia public school bus. Photo: Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images
A Philadelphia public school bus. Photo: Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images

The Philadelphia School District announced late Monday that 81 out of the system's 216 schools will shift to virtual learning this week, citing staffing issues stemming from the latest COVID-19 surge.

Why it matters: The city saw the highest average of new COVID-19 cases last week, driven primarily by the Omicron variant.

Details: The district shared the decision the night before students were supposed to return to school after winter break. Officials initially announced the move to virtual learning for 77 schools but later added four more at 11:30pm.

  • Staff members at affected schools must still report to work in person unless they're quarantining.
  • Those who must quarantine can virtually teach from home after making arrangements with school leaders.
  • Principals will communicate directly with families regarding virtual instruction.

State of play: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers told Axios that about 1,100 of its roughly 13,000 union members have recently self-reported a positive COVID-19 case.

  • About 2,000 self-reported that there was at least one positive case in their household.
  • The union sent superintendent William Hite a letter earlier this week asking for classes to go virtual temporarily.

Between the lines: The district has been dealing with staffing shortages for months, and some administrative workers have had to take on new roles in the interim as schools scramble to fill vacant positions.

  • Ahead of the holiday break, Hite sent a letter to families saying he was committed to keeping schools open as long as it's safe.

What they're saying: Hillary Linardopoulos, a spokesperson for the union, told Axios it should consider virtual learning until there are better COVID-19 mitigation practices that are enforced.

  • "This is piecemeal. It's not a district-wide plan, so it's not what we asked for," Linardopoulous said.
  • The union also posted on its Facebook Monday night that the move "leaves parents and staff alike scrambling to make plans" for Tuesday.

School district spokesperson Monica Lewis told Axios the district isn't planning to change existing protocols.

  • Hite said in a statement that the goal remains to keep the district open but they'll "make school-by-school decisions based on the latest available data."

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said in an earlier statement that in-person learning "is critical to the well-being of our children."

  • She said city health officials "deeply appreciate the commitment of the city schools to maintaining in-person education as consistently as possible."

Of note: The full list of the 81 schools that will pause in-person learning can be found on the district's website.

  • Ahead of the holiday break, 16 schools were temporarily closed and toggled to virtual learning.
  • The Philadelphia Public Health Department recommends schools pause in-person learning entirely if three or more grades are being paused or if more than 3% of the school population tests positive for COVID-19.
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