Back to school

Philly public schools return to in-person instruction on rolling basis.


Pre-kindergarten through second-grade students began returning to school buildings for in-person learning on a rolling schedule on Monday.

City, School District of Philadelphia and teachers’ union officials announced the return at a news conference on Monday, March 2.

The agreement followed a mediation process led by a city-appointed neutral third-party, the school district and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

The first 53 schools have been approved to resume in-person instruction using the district’s hybrid model for students who chose hybrid learning during the selection process last fall. Teachers at those 53 schools reported to work on Wednesday, March 3.

The list of 53 schools includes the following located in the River Wards: 

Henry A. Brown School, John Moffet School, Frances E. Willard School, and John H. Webster School.

Schools in the River Wards that will resume in-person instruction starting March 15 include Alexander Adaire School, Horation B. Hackett School, and General Philip Kearney School.

A cohort of new schools will come back each week until all pre-K to second-grade classes have returned. The goal is to have the return dates for all pre-K to second-grade hybrid learning students announced by March 22.

Public schools have been closed to in-person instruction since March 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have been open since September for in-person instruction.

To prepare for in-person learning, public school parents and families are encouraged to visit to learn more about the layers of safety the district has in place.

“We are excited to offer the in-person learning opportunities that so many of our families want and need. Despite the heroic work of our educators, many of our students have struggled academically and others are suffering feelings of isolation after having to sit before a computer screen for nearly a year,” said William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of the school district. “We all know that this is not the most effective way for our children to learn. This is why we have had a strong sense of urgency around and commitment to safely reopening our schools, just as many other schools and school districts have already done locally and nationally.”

The school district has put in place the following layers of safety:

  • mandatory mask wearing or other facial covering, which will be provided to students and staff;
  • rapid testing for students and staff;
  • new classroom setups and signage for social distancing;
  • touchless hand sanitizer stations;
  • Plexiglas partitions;
  • maximum occupancy signs;
  • enhanced cleaning protocols;
  • and a COVID-19  testing program in place for students and staff.

“The union triggered the intervention of the neutral third party, as negotiated by the PFT and district, and we were able to utilize the mediation process to secure and assure a safe plan to reopen school buildings,” said Jerry T. Jordan, PFT president. “Today, we are able to confidently say that 53 schools are safe for reoccupancy based on a detailed analysis made possible by the mediation process. I applaud all parties for their commitment to ensuring the safety of our educators and the young people they serve. Nothing could be more important.”

The school district and PFT will continue to work through the agreed-upon review process to approve all remaining schools for in-person learning to welcome back hybrid learning students in grades 3-12 in the coming weeks.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten attended the news conference. The AFT’s Pennsylvania president, Arthur Steinberg, was also in attendance.

Steinberg claimed that the fight for safe school buildings is rooted in “systemic racism,” adding that the conditions in Philadelphia public schools would never be tolerated in a wealthier, whiter school district.

“Today’s announcement is significant because it will be the first time in nearly a year that students, albeit a small group, are able to return to in-person learning,” he said.

Steinberg said the district’s proposal for window fans to improve circulation was a “nonstarter.” An alternative solution involves scientifically approved air purifiers.

Thousands of PFT members have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and thousands more are scheduled. Steinberg thanked Mayor Jim Kenney, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the district for the partnership. ••

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