Updated Jan 5, 2022 - News

COVID-related staffing issues force more Philly schools to go virtual

An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty
An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty

Several more Philadelphia district schools will toggle to virtual classes this week due to COVID-related staffing problems.

Driving the news: This means almost half of the schools in the district's system will be virtual this week.

  • The move came a day after the district decided to temporarily pause in-person learning in 81 schools, bringing the total to 92.

Between the lines: Philadelphia is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, with a nearly 40% positivity rate.

  • Meanwhile, the district has been grappling with staffing shortages for months.

What they're saying: The district said in a statement that it will continue to deploy administrative staff to help mitigate shortages when possible.

  • "Despite these challenges, one thing remains clear — in-person learning is essential for the physical, social, emotional and academic well-being of our students, especially after nearly two years of trauma caused by the pandemic and other matters," superintendent William Hite said in a statement.
  • On Monday, Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said that in-person learning is "critical to the well-being of our children."

The other side: "At nearly every level, today has been chaotic and entirely untenable. From soaring cases to massive staffing shortages in open buildings, the current situation is untenable," Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said in a statement.

Flashback: The teachers union urged the district prior to students' return to temporarily pause in-person instruction districtwide for a week.

  • The union argued that would give time to put in place more COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Robin Cooper, the president of the district's principals union — Commonwealth Association of School Administrators Local 502 — also supports districtwide virtual learning.

  • Cooper told The Philadelphia Inquirer that many of her members don't have the staff or equipment to do regular cleanings. "We're now behind the eight ball, operating in a reactive manner."

The teachers union also had their building representatives complete a survey on Tuesday. Of the more than 150 schools that responded:

  • 90% reported staff shortages.
  • 35% reported not having enough masks.
  • More than 30% didn't have enough hand sanitizer.
  • Over 30% reported a lack of adequate air purifiers.

Of note: The district also said it will communicate any more changes to in-person learning plans at 4pm and 10pm each day, starting Tuesday.

Editor's note: This piece was updated with the latest number of schools switching to virtual learning.

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